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We should have a “Right to Roam” on English waterways

1 Comment 9th July 2010

I recently took up canoeing as a sport, and found it's great for fitness and seeing the countryside.  I've been disappointed to find however that, although in England we have a right to roam on all our traditional footpaths, we don't have a similar general right to roam on our waterways, which seems an absurd limitation on our civil liberty.

I understand that in most other countries (including Scotland) there is an assumed right to roam on any waterway, provided the craft used is appropriate to the waterway, and in my opinion we should have the same freedom here.

Why does this matter?

Rivers and waterways are things that belong to all of us – no-one owns the water and we should be able to use rivers, lakes and canals in common, with just the same sort of mutual  consideration that we apply with footpaths.

Currently, the legal situation (as far as I've been able to underatand it) seems confused, with some rivers accessible because they belong to public bodies (e.g. the Environmant Agency – though one has to pay a fee!) but with landowners trying to stop people using other waterways, by appealing to their "riparian rights", which I understand grew up piecemeal during the late 19th Century (access to waterways having been free before that time). 

Incidentally, I do understand that some very popular waterways which are currently restricted by requiring a special registration and fee (for example the Backs in Cambridge) may need to retain those restrictions simply to avoid overcrowding.  However these ad hoc exceptions should be kept to a minimum, and in general across the country there is no propspect of overcrowding or any harm or damage whatsoever from canoes and kayaks on our waterways!

If we're even moderately serious about civil liberties and equal access to the good things that our country gives us for free, I think granting a general right to roam on England's waterways in appropriate craft is a no-brainer.

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One Response to We should have a “Right to Roam” on English waterways

  1. Simon Hunter says:

    We should have a right to roam on the waterways.

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