A river runs through it; but should canoes? Guest blog by Greenwoods Solicitors

07b 484b 5c 7bb 24fd 8b 39c 6a 66dab 052e 348a 2399Guest blog by Stephen Illingworth, Commercial Property Director at Greenwoods Solicitors

They say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but that is less and less the case these days! Many statutory organisations can have access to your home without your consent. For example, some landowners next to the sea have subsequently had the Coastal Path imposed on their land.

But what about a river running through your property? Do canoeists and other individuals in water borne vessels have the right to navigate freely up and down your river? You may own the fishing rights but do you have to share the river?

If you are concerned about this, you firstly need to make sure that you own the river in question. If you own the land on both sides of the river, then you own the river itself. In more complex circumstances, ‘riparian rights’ will give you ownership of your nearest half of the river, with your neighbour on the other side owning the other half. This can be adjusted by arrangements or purchases with your neighbour.

As a matter of law, there is no general ‘Public Right of Navigation’ on English and Welsh non-tidal rivers. In other words, just because it is possible practically to navigate up and down a river, it does not necessarily follow that people have the right to do so.

However, canoeists, kayakers and users of similar vessels may not even consider if they have ‘rights of navigation’ before going out to explore. Of course, arrangements can be made with canoeing and boating clubs for their members to have access at certain times over rivers, but this is not a compulsory obligation for land owners.

The Welsh Assembly Government recently launched a consultation entitled ‘Taking Forward Wales; Sustainable Management of Natural Resources’ including a proposal to amend or revoke the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000.

This would provide access to canoes, rafts or even paddle boards on inland tidal water, rivers or inland waters anywhere, therefore overriding restrictions under the existing law.

This has caused a ripple of concern across both Wales and England:

  • Keen fisherman like myself are concerned due to the extreme disturbance that canoeists and other vessels cause along rivers;
  • Landowners are rightly concerned about the issues of trespass on to the adjoining fields and extra noise pollution;
  • Environmentalists are aware that extra traffic on rivers could disturb wildlife, with rivers acting as an important home for many animals, and creating additional litter in these areas;
  • There is also the matter of liability for land owners. Some rivers are plainly not safe for canoeists with the amount of rocks and rapids. What will a land owner’s insurance company say if there were an accident on your river? As river owner, do you owe users (legal and illegal) a duty of care?

In conclusion, it is important that owners of rivers keep a careful eye on canoeists using their rivers without consent, and plan carefully for how any changes to the current laws could affect you directly.

For more information about Greenwoods Solicitors and the services they provide visit their website.

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