Friday, 18 November 2011

Avon River Access

The battle for fair use and access to England's rivers is hotting up in our local area. When I moved 6 miles inland to the Ringwood area of the New Forest I was struck by the expanse of rivers and several lakes in the area. I h love to be near the water and was shocked that considering how much local water there is, that the public cannot get close to most of it let alone walk the banks or dare I say paddle.

Recently a growing group of kayakers have been testing the rights with protest paddles. To say that the reactions from local fisherman and some landowners has been aggressive, it putting it mildly. Threats with shotguns and the use of wire across the river has been reported.

Water sports such as kayaking and diving are in rapid growth and now rival fishing as popular activities. This has always been the case in most European countries and yet they co-exist peaceably. In fact it is only England and Wales that use draconian laws to restrict, public right of way to little more than 3%. When I discuss this with  fishermen they seem to get very defensive and hot under the collar. The usual comment is "you have the whole sea to use, why do you have to paddle on the river". Naturally the reverse rule should then apply, but fisherman have the choice without restriction. There reality is that most kayakers only use the coast where the land joins the sea and I have even experienced and witnessed friction from a few fisherman even along the coast. After over 20 years of paddling through the Mudeford run from harbour to the sea or back many kayakers (including myself) rightly avoid the narrow main boat channel by cut tight around the Spit. There have been many more anglers of the Spit this year, some of whom now think they have sole rights to this spot judging by the looks and the odd abusive comments. I have been a keen free diver for many years and the same problem exist as fishermen take almost every decent rugged access point. I have nothing against angling, but we all have to respect that we deserve the same freedoms.

Here is an interesting video of Matt Baker's TV documentary highlight the problems of Avon River access. The points about disturbing wildlife do not stack up. I have never got so close to wildlife as when I quietly paddle. I would understand resistance to a large group of paddlers churning away in a small area, but a small group just gently passing through should not be a problem,  

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