Brief History of Water Access

The inland waters of Wales were carved long before the emergence of modern society. Historically, much as they do today, our rivers, lakes and estuaries provided opportunities for transport, commerce, sustenance and recreation.

The Romans recognised the importance of public access to water, and during the Roman occupation the Waters of Wales were designated as `public things`. Later, Magna Carta recognised public rights of navigation.

Public access to the land was restricted over a period of time by the Enclosure Acts, but these acts did not affect public rights to navigate water e.g. boating or swimming.

Traditional practices such as coracle fishing became subject to severe restriction from the 19th Century, but in Wales, shared use of rivers for transport, fishing and recreation is well-documented into the 20th Century.

The first recorded challenges to public use of water for informal recreation are from the 1940`s - 50`s. Attempts to defuse conflict by negotiating restrictions to access led to the growth of a mistaken perception that permission was needed for use of water by the public.

Waters of Wales

For 50-60 years, various groups tried to negotiate access to and along inland water by voluntary agreement, but this proved impossible, as even if agreement could be reached between two parties, no one group could enter into an agreement on behalf of the general public.

In 2003, Scotland addressed access issues with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. A campaign was mounted in Wales for similar legislation, and in 2008 a petition of 10,000 signatures was delivered to the Senedd. A public enquiry followed and led ultimately to the promise of a green paper by the end of 2013. The green paper has been stalled and there is no current indication of when it might be published, or indeed any current indication of an intention to publish it at some later stage.

A more detailed time line of the campaign for land reform in Wales, leading to the growth of of the `Waters of Wales` community can be found below.

See the WOW timeline   Read More

Campaign for Access to Inland Water in Wales Timeline

A brief history of the Waters of Wales Campaign


A petition with 10,000 + signatures was delivered to the Welsh Assembly

The Welsh Assembly Government is urged to consider and implement a Bill to benefit Wales that would enshrine access rights and responsibilities for the public to and along natural resources in the same way that the Scottish Land Reform Act encourages co-operative use of the outdoors for healthy, low impact recreation.

This Bill must provide and permit access to and along non-tidal water in the face of the massive lack of legal clarity and restrictions that exist at present, which act as a barrier to sport and recreation and the promotion of Wales as a place to visit for adventure tourism.


Following a short inquiry, the Petitions Committee issued this Press Release:

(Read the press release )


Following their full enquiry, in spite of the Petitions Committee`s recommendations, the Sustainability Committee recommended

the setting up of voluntary access agreements by landowners

that SPLASH funding be targeted at these pilot projects; and that

the effects of the pilot projects should be closely monitored and the outcomes widely disseminated.

The full report can be found on this link:

(Read the report )

  2011 - 2012

A series of `Round-Table Discussions` took place, and projects funded by `SPLASH` were implemented.


July - Welsh Government launched a review of legislation relating to access and outdoor recreation.

October - Welsh Government wrote:

The report of the National Assembly for Wales' Sustainability Committee on their Inquiry into Access to Inland Waters in Wales (2010) advocated that in the short term effort should focus on establishing voluntary agreements, but should the Assembly secure legislative competence in this area that introducing legislation to address areas where conflict persists would also be desirable. Three years on there continues to be conflict between different user groups and voluntary access agreements do not appear to be working Wales wide. The Minister now believes that it is necessary to explore ways of seeking to bring clarity and certainty for all on where they can go and what activities they can do, whilst ensuring proper safeguards for both nature conservation and the interests of owners. The Committee's findings are informing this current review.

(Read the current review )

December - Welsh Government wrote:

On water, there is a need to see an increase in the number of voluntary access agreements providing for a range of recreational activites. We will there publish a Green Paper on improving public access to land and seeking better facilitation of voluntary access to water. We do not plan to pursue primary legislation in this assembly term.

(Read the access paper )


By Welsh Government`s own account, the strategy of agreements funded by SPLASH has not delivered. The Green Paper promised for December 2013 has been considerably delayed. The future of SPLASH is now in doubt, but there is no indication of Welsh Government`s future intentions regarding public access to inland water. There is a danger that Access to Inland Water will disappear from the Welsh Government agenda.


During 2015 WoW wrote to Welsh Government asking them to make a commitment to embark on the process to legislation, and received the reply that they will not do so in this assembly term. We then attempted to petition Welsh Government to divulge the legal advice they had received about the status of public rights of navigation, and they refused to accept the petition. The above clarified that we are looking to the new Welsh Assembly to be elected in 2016.

WoW submitted a petition at the end of 2015. The question is similar to the one submitted by Canoe Wales and has been accepted by the Petitions Service of the Welsh Assembly.

We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to implement a Bill to establish statutory public rights of access to land and water for recreational and other purposes. The bill should enshrine access rights and responsibilities for the public in the same way that the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act encourages co-operative use of the outdoors for healthy, low impact recreation. This Bill must enshrine public rights of navigation for inland water, and permit access to and along water. It must remove the lack of legal clarity and restrictions which act as a barrier to sport and recreation and the promotion of Wales as a welcoming place for healthy recreation, tourism and adventurous activity at all levels of participation and enjoyment.

(Link to the e-petition. )


The Campaign Continues!

The signed petition was delivered to the Chair of the Petitions Committee on 1st November 2016. We were then advised that the Chair had already written to the Minister asking for a position, and received a reply.

(Minister’s letter to the Petitions Committee )

(WoW response to the Minister’s letter )

The petition was briefly discussed at the Petitions Committee on 15th November. It was decided to hold the petition pending the promised announcement, by the end of January 2017, by Welsh Government.


Campaign Moves forward!

January: In the face of continued inaction from the Welsh Government, WoW organised a profile-raising “Mass Paddle” on the River Dee in Llangollen on 8th January to raise the profile of our campaign, with Lowri Davies Champion Freestyle kayaker doing a great job of speaking out on our behalf.

February: A “Paddle to the Senedd and Quayside Rally” was held on 14th February, a day when the petition was on the agenda. The paddle was attended by over 100 paddlers, including members of the Canoe Wales Board, and was also endorsed by British Canoeing. Lowri Davies, Frances Bateman (GB Paralympic sprint champion) and GB Ice Swimmer Vicki Brice joined us for the event, and spoke to the assembled media. Pam Bell, spokesperson for Waters of Wales was interviewed live on Radio Wales, and we featured on BBC Wales Today and ITV Wales News. Several Assembly members met WoW members arriving at the Senedd and discussed our campaign. Steffan Lewis AM (South Wales East) who sponsored the event on our behalf, accepted papers supporting our case.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths published the following statement on the day.

Outdoor recreation makes a significant contribution to the economy and provides considerable health and social benefits. This is demonstrated by the huge success of the Wales Coast Path which has increased Wales’ profile at home and abroad. We now have the opportunity to build on this success. Wales needs an approach to public access for outdoor recreation that is less burdensome to administer, provides for a wide range of activities, but at the same time, respects the concerns of landowners. Whilst we can learn from other countries’ approaches, Wales requires laws which suit its cultural and physical landscape. We are very much aware of the concerns of landowners and the aspirations of access users. I will publish our proposals at the earliest opportunity so people can have their say, so we achieve a system that works in the best interest of all parties.

June: Launch of Welsh Government Consultation ‘Taking Forward Wales’ sustainable management of natural resources’

Chapter 4: Access to Outdoors: The current system underpinning access to countryside is too complex and burdensome. As such, Wales needs a better and fairer approach to public access for outdoor recreation, which is less burdensome to administer, provides for the wide range of activities people want to participate in and has sensible safeguards for land management activities. The Welsh Government intends to develop a coherent system for outdoor recreation, which allows for a broad range of non-motorised recreation on paths, open country and inland water.

Waters of Wales – WoW Response

Waters of Wales – WoW has set out our views on the proposals, which can be used as an online response form or as a template to help people compose their own letter.

(Online response form/template )

Our full response will be delivered shortly before the closing date of 30 September, and will be available on our website.


June:Welsh Government wrote, in response to the consultation:

There were strong but differing views on how best to reform access legislation. We therefore believe that now is not the right time for substantive reform. But we are committed to exploring selected aspects of change where there was greater consensus, including on some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We will continue to facilitate further discussions through established groups such as the National Access Forum.

Link to the full response from Hannah Blythyn AM:

(Hannah Blythyn AM Response )

Waters of Wales – WoW Response to the Minister’s letter:

( WoW Response to the Minister’s letter )


August:The Petitions committee asked the Minister for further information about her intentions. In August 2018, the Minister replied:

Rural areas and interests are facing significant changes and uncertainty as a result of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. I do not intend to add further uncertainty and complexity to what may be a difficult transition for all concerned which is why I have said now is not the right time for substantive access reform. The consultation has been an extremely valuable exercise to inform the direction I want to take with regard to access, both through legislation and other means. I will provide further detail on the reform and the approach I believe is necessary when I formally respond to the consultation later this year.

In August 2018, the Minister replied:

(The Ministers reply. )


September:Waters of Wales – WoW Response to the Minister’s letter:

WoW Response to the Minister’s letter:

(Wow Response. )
While we wait for the Minister’s next statement:


The Campaign continues!

Further activities will be notified to the Waters of Wales – WoW community as we become aware of, and respond to, Welsh Government’s intentions.

To become part of the community, ‘Like’ the Waters of Wales – WoW Community page on Facebook: or register as a supporter via the website:

Additional papers relating to the campaign to date are available via the `Waters of Wales` website: Further documents will be added as the campaign progresses. If you have information to share with the campaign, please contact one of the admins.