Access to Rivers
The matter of canoes, or should I more correctly say unpowered craft, gaining access to the rivers of England and Wales is becoming an extremely thorny issue. In the case of the Hampshire Avon, with which this diary is concerned, it is not only the issue of trespass with the associated loss of income but also of the health and safety and serious ecological implications for the SSSI/SAC.
The 1664 Navigation Bill whilst still effectively on the statute books did not apply to the present course of the Avon and would be difficult to use as justification for current day access. The issue of trespass would appear clear in that the case brought by the riparian owners for trespass against a boatman at Christchurch in 1907 had the judgement in favour of the owners - Cross D A E (1970). I believe this precedent remains. Should this action ever be overturned the loss of income through the associated loss of exclusivity has serious implications for a river such as the Avon which has such high maintenance costs. If an annual fishery value of 10,000.00 GBP per mile of river is taken as an example, fishing tenants will not pay this rent if the pools and associated ambience is lost through disturbance. If the rental income is lost the means to maintain the artificial nature of the Avon will be gone and the river will fall into total dilapidation. This state of dilapidation may be looked upon by many as beneficial to the wildlife regime of the river but this is a naive view if the designated state of the Avon is considered. The multiple conservation designations the Avon is deemed worthy have all been as a result of the artificial nature of the river and the designated species and their habitat reflect this. Revetments and the repair of bunds and control is an enormously expensive operation falling to the riparian interests who require all possible income streams, loose the income streams and the river will change irreversibly.
Should canoeists wish to gain access and contribute on a similar scale as that contributed by the angling fraternity I’m sure many owners would be willing to listen. Unfortunately responsible canoeists will not be the only persons involved if the river is opened to navigation. Every local lad (or lass) will wish to travel the river in his inflatable, raft or bath tub, just who is expected to police this lot and be responsible for their H&S. Particularly if they are to shoot the rapids and stopper waves through the control structures and fish passes; as recently witnessed through the EA controlled weir at Ringwood. In the case of the Avon the speed of current and the extremely heavy weed growth makes swimming almost an impossibility thus making even the apparently most benign stretch potentially lethal.
One other aspect that prevents this approach are the ecological implications; to illustrate my point, in the four miles immediately upstream of Ringwood weir there are twenty one swans’ nests. As can be seen from the attached photograph swans swim ahead of boats passing into other swan territories, this involves extremely violent territorial struggles and where cygnets are involved a very high percentage of deaths. Thirteen Great Crested Grebe nests in the same area, with the birds similarly being driven from the nest, once abandoned the eggs will be immediately predated by the less easily frighten moorhens and coots. Some may say that Swans destroy desirable weed and Grebe eat fish so this is not such a loss, I’m afraid I do not follow that line of thinking. The risk of changes are deeply worrying, if we are to abandon the river to a free for all the impact on the environment, so dear to me, will be difficult to adjust to.
The problems of disturbance are very real in the crowded part of the country we choose to live, this does not only apply to boat traffic but all intrusions into the valley and I will add a piece outlining the current problems at a future date.