The Issue

Public enjoyment of the Waters of Wales can be contentious, but this has not always been the case.

There are acknowledgments of a Public Right to use water prior to 1750. There is no overall or encompassing statute which extinguishes pre existing rights, merely an assumption by some that this has changed due to changing use of the waters of Wales. If private rights have been allocated or sold since, these rights are held subject to the public right. Whilst fishing rights were originally granted for sustenance they are now more commonly used for 'sporting' purposes.

For much of the time, the waters of Wales are enjoyed by a wide range of users, sharing this wonderful natural resource without conflict. However, there are some who believe that they are, or should be, entitled to exclusive access to the water and waterside. This can lead to conflict between different users and/or between users and landowners. Some individuals are keen to point out that 'The Law' states there is no public right of navigation on water England and Wales. In fact there is no statute, overriding or apparent, which supports this assertion.

The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) 2000 Act passed by UK Government, and currently applicable to England and Wales seeks to restrict opportunities for the public to exercise their right of navigation, by excluding access for the purpose of water-based recreation from designated CRoW access land.

For most nations throughout Europe, and almost everywhere else in the World, the public position has been clarified in law. Most recently, Scotland enshrined public rights with responsibilities by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, with an accompanying outdoor Code. Welsh Government has the ability to pass similar legislation for Wales, but has shown an inexplicable reluctance to do so.

The law relating to public use of inland water in Wales, with the exception of sporting rights, is, for all parties, unclear. Welsh Government has taken the untenable position of claiming that the legal position is unclear, while predicating its strategy on one interpretation.

For example, when Welsh Government supported a restrictive arrangement on the Upper Wye. Environment Agency stated in 2005:

Our support and instigation of access agreements on rivers where rights to navigate may or may not exist does not constitute a comment on whether such rights exist or not. Such agreements are a pragmatic approach to securing recreational opportunities for the public. It is not currently our policy to seek to investigate any such rights on the Upper Wye

Of course it is open to individuals or organisations to assert a right they believe they have, and were any such rights to be challenged to seek their confirmation via a legal process. Were any rights to navigate on the Upper Wye be confirmed by the courts, we would of course give due regard to any such judgement.

This is not a reasonable or sustainable way for government to manage public rights in a modern nation.

Access Terms

Historically, terms used when discussing public access have led to confusion. WoW will use the following:

Access:
Access over/from land to get into a waterway. Currently normally by public right of way or over/from land with the landowner's or their tenant's permission.

Navigation:
Travel down, along or over a waterway. This can be by watercraft or swimming.

Access Agreements : Arrangements : VAA's:
Tend to be based on restriction of activity of one or more user-groups. Often overly complicated and confusing in nature, they tend to favour the vested interests of one group of stake holders over others. Private agreements between specific users cannot imposed on the public. Restrictive agreements are not the means of securing access but can be used between equal parties to manage activity.