British Canoeing (BC) the canoeists’ governing body, has issued a charter for access. As you probably know, the canoeists have for many years claimed that they have an ancient right of access to rivers. As ever, they are pushing for the total, unrestricted 24/7 right to paddle and have encouraged their members to get their MPs on side to support them.

Before we go any further, it is worth making clear the existing right of access in law to paddlers in non-tidal water on rivers in England and Wales, because very few anglers I meet are totally aware of the situation: with few exceptions, there is no legal right of access. Legitimate paddling has hitherto often been by means of voluntary access agreements agreed between landowners and canoeing clubs.

BC (formerly the British Canoe Union – BCU) is now taking a hard line on this issue and has issued a ‘Charter for Access’ which insists on their right of universal, unlimited – and of course free – access. Not only that, but their new manifesto includes a guide for canoeists on how to avoid being identified and how to avoid legal action.

BC has been unable so far to produce hard evidence in support of their supposed access rights except by quoting somebody’s PhD thesis claiming that such a universal right has always existed in law, something which various senior legal professionals have categorically ruled does NOT exist. In addition, various canoe clubs are in the habit of claiming that in their particular area there are rights of river navigation dating from 1204, or whenever… all I can say is that if, for example, somebody knocked on my door and claimed that he intended to make use of a right granted by King John in 1215 to shoot or ride on the land on which my home stands I think I know what my response might be…

In July 2018 British Canoeing turned down an offer from the Angling Trust (your governing body) to participate in a joint initiative to encourage and promote legitimate canoe access agreements. The reason they gave was that such agreements would, understandably, involve restrictions as to when and where, with the aim of avoiding significant environmental damage. Clearly, having canoeists rampaging through spawning areas at the wrong time is not a great idea, for example.

As a result of this inflexible refusal and totally unyielding attitude, many legitimate, law-abiding canoeists have lost much legitimate access.

The canoeists’ charter calls for ‘fair, shared, sustainable open access’. In practice their demands do not match any of these descriptions. Their website looks to promote canoeists as the caring guardians of rivers and other waterways. I leave you to comment on that one.

I have not really mentioned the question of damage, vandalism and rowdy behaviour associated with canoeing. Suffice it to say that there are good reasons why paddlers should be charged, ie should pay an environmental contribution on the lines of the angler’s rod license, and should be identifiable, something which they clearly seem keen to avoid.

So what do we, as anglers, need to do?

First, and most importantly, resist the temptation to act violently if you swim is invaded by canoeists. Any serious injury, or worse, to a canoeist would provide wonderful propaganda ammunition for the canoeists’ cause. Apart from that, let us please not descend to their level of law-breaking.

Second, be aware of whether a right of access or voluntary access agreement exists. If not, then the appearance of canoeists needs to be reported to your fishing club, or – in theory at least – to the local police. Failing that, the relevant landowner would, I am sure, in most cases wish to be kept informed.

It is a good idea to take a few photographs if you can of the trespassers who, of course, never like their faces becoming known.

And last not least, take a look at the Angling Trust website to keep track of what it is doing about the situation. You can access it here:

Don’t imagine that the canoeists will somehow disappear from the scene and give up their struggle. Because they won’t. All the more reason to support the organisation which works for you.

And please do consider joining the Angling Trust and/or donating to the cause.  The Angling Trust is working on behalf of you, the angler, on this and many other issues.


Rod Sturdy.

Rod began fishing in his local park lake at the age of twelve, and from there he graduated to chub and roach from the river Tees in North Yorkshire. He now lives in Surrey within striking distance of the river Mole, as well as the Medway and the Eden in Kent and does a lot of surface carp fishing on small waters in the area. Latterly he has enjoyed winter fishing on the Test in Hampshire. He has contributed numerous articles on various angling subjects and personalities to ‘Waterlog’ magazine, as well as many posts on environmental and political subjects in support of the work of the Angling Trust on the ‘Fishing Magic’ website (

He remains a passionate angler as well as a member of, Ambassador for, and promoter of the Angling Trust; do join him as a valued member.