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01/06/2014 - Anglers Welcome Government Decision Not to Impose Unfettered Access to Rivers in Wales

Anglers and countryside organisations are delighted that the Welsh Government has shelved its plans to impose universal access for canoes to rivers in Wales.  The Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths announced on Friday that the Government has no intention of pursuing primary legislation in this assembly term and that it will continue to support Voluntary Access Agreements. 

When Mr Griffiths announced the review of legislation relating to access and outdoor recreation last July he said that he had not ruled out legislating to allow anyone to canoe wherever and whenever they choose.  This prompted a wide range of angling and countryside organisations to launch the Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru (SACC).  Leaders of these groups have made detailed representations to the Welsh Assembly and to Government and hundreds of anglers and angling clubs have written to their Assembly Members and Ministers to highlight the damage that unfettered access could do to fish and fishing.

The organisations welcome the commitment to Voluntary Access Agreements, which allow riparian owners to set out the times of year and heights of water when canoeing will be allowed on the rivers that they own.  There have been numerous examples in Wales, and in England, of these agreements being drafted but the canoeing governing bodies have refused to sign them because they don’t offer access at all times.  The canoeing governing bodies have also provided public information which encourages people to go canoeing where they have no lawful right to do so, by suggesting that the law is not clear about access to water. 

SACC is now calling on the canoeing organisations to work constructively to support the government’s commitment to voluntary access agreements and to stop issuing incorrect information to the public, which is causing widespread unlawful canoeing.

SACC will also continue to press for the registration of canoes so that offenders can be more easily identified from the riverbank.  The organisations believe that this registration is essential if voluntary access agreements are to be enforced.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “Angling clubs and individuals have collectively paid hundreds of millions of pounds to buy and lease access to fishing in Wales and everyone at the Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru is delighted that the Welsh Assembly Government has backed away from allowing canoeists to paddle wherever and whenever they please.  We are very grateful for all the support we have received from thousands of individuals and organisations throughout the UK.”He added:“Many river owners are willing to permit canoeing on their waters as long as it does not damage the environment or get in the way of existing legitimate uses of the water, such as fishing, which makes a significant contribution to the economy and conservation of the water environment.  To achieve more access for canoes, we now need to see the canoeing governing bodies working with us to agree voluntary access agreements which allow canoeing with some reasonable restrictions, rather than refusing to sign them as they have in the past.  The BCU must also immediately stop publishing inaccurate and disingenuous information about the law relating to navigation.”

Rachel Evans, Director for Wales of the Countryside Alliance said: “I welcome the statement made by the Minister and am pleased that the voice of anglers has been heard loud and clear in Cardiff Bay. Angling is a significant contributor to the Welsh economy and there is much that can be done without going down a complex legislative route. It is now up to others who want to use the rivers responsibly for other uses to come forward and be part of the negotiations with angling clubs and riparian and landowners across Wales.”

Tony Rees, Chairman of Angling Cymru said: “Angling has long had a firm relation with landowners and farmers and respected their legal property rights.  Many Associations around Wales had excellent voluntary agreements in place that worked.  Our member clubs are still working to reinstate these and will continue to do so.”


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