The Present Legal Situation
- A new access statement
has been added to the site
The following notes refer to England and Wales only. The law is different in Scotland where the Scottish Canoe Association can advise.
The bed and banks of all rivers and canals are privately owned. There is a right of access on all rivers and canals maintained as navigations subject to a payment for a license where required. Where navigations have been abandoned it can be unclear if there is still a public right of access.
A right of access is known to exist on some other non-tidal rivers based on Common Law and historic use. Known examples are the River Wye below Hay-on-Wye, River Lugg from Leominster and the River Severn between Pool Quay near Welshpool and Stourport. It is not known how such rights might apply to other unregulated rivers.
In nearly all cases there is a public right of access on tidal waters. The right may be subject to a payment of harbour dues and restrictions due to security/exclusion zones or use by the Ministry of Defence. The tidal limits on waterways are shown on Ordnance Survey maps.
Going to a private place without actual or implied permission could constitute an act of trespass. For information on Trespass, PLEASE CLICK HERE
Other information and comment
Scotland and most countries in the world do not have blanket access restrictions to and along inland waters. In these countries, access to large and small non-tidal rivers is open to all.
There is very little, if any, conflict between landownership, other water interests and users where each has legal rights.
Uniquely, the public cannot assume there is an automatic right of access to rivers in England and Wales. It is both uncertain and problematic when:
• From 70,600km of inland waterways in England and Wales, 66,000km are without public access (“Water based sport & recreation; the facts 2000”, University of Brighton).
• This represents over 96% of the river systems.
• The legal situation is unfavorable for access.
• Owners of riverbeds and banks have riparian property rights, but do not own the water.
• Riparian owners can exercise control over access to inland waters where there is not a right of access.
• Research has revealed that prior to 1830, it was generally accepted the public as a right had historically used rivers. Legal opinions since that time have continued to diminish this acceptance and created a lack of certainty for such a right. There is strength of evidence to conclude that a right to use inland waterways under Common Law has been usurped in the last 180 years.
The case for more access to inland waters
In contrast to inland waters there is a public rights of way network with over 200,000km of footpaths, bridleways and other public routes, for all to use. Inland waters should be regarded in the same way as recent research indicates they were in the past. The Government has a range of agendas for increasing access to the countryside and coastline, physical exercise, improving health and outdoor education and developing the rural economy. Canoeing can support these aims by using the natural resource of inland waters.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 makes provisions for a coastal access corridor along much of the English coastline. Establishing the access corridor will take a number of years. For canoeists, the legislation will increasingly provide greater clarity of access to the land and shore from the sea.
For more details visit - http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/environment/marine/mca/