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Another countryside clash: whose river is it anyway?

Friday 02 March 2007

Our countryside and rural affairs commentator John Sheard, who wants everyone to enjoy the great outdoors, calls for good manners and common sense as he worries over yet another potential clash between town and country

LET'S GET one thing straight from the very beginning. I want townsfolk to enjoy the countryside. I would like to see more of them getting out and about. It might do them good, health-wise, and save the NHS a few bob in the long run.

There is even a remote chance that exposure to rural beauty and peace and quiet might show the odd yobbo that there is life outside the inner cities, turning him (or her) away from a life of crime: one such case was reported to me about an Asbo-boy from Oldham who is planning a career in farming after spending a day working on a Yorkshire Dales hill farm.

devil's bridge kirkby lonsdale
Devil's Bridge: hospitality abused

But this has to be a two way thing. If townies want to enjoy the countryside, and take part in some of its many activities, they should also learn some country ways. And by that I mean much more than not spreading litter and leaving gates as they found them, either open or closed.

I am talking here about something that seems to have become a rare commodity in urban parts of this land of ours, common courtesy. And that's why I am worried that some Left Winger is trying to push a Private Members' Bill through Parliament giving canoeists and other non-motorised boaters the absolute right to use any river in England and Wales whenever they feel like it - and to Hell with other river users.

I have been fishing the River Lune in Cumbria for salmon and sea trout for the past 35 years and it has cost me several thousands of pounds to do so. A lot of that money has gone on re-stocking the river and caring for its banks as well as in rent to owner of the riparian, or fishing, rights.

He is a very generous man who keeps his estate in pristine condition and allows members of the public free-use of his land by the famous Devil's Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale. And time and time again, that generosity is abused by people who spread litter, light fires which burn the grass, and camp over-night, sometimes with ghetto-blasters ripping the heart out of the midnight solitude.

There is a superb salmon pool below Devil's Bridge, where locals are allowed to fish for free and one which is regularly used by canoeists and sub-aqua divers and, to me, they are welcome: this is too beautiful a spot not to be shared with limited access to the countryside.

There is, however, a small but noisy minority of canoeists who stray miles away from that spot and use the river as a public highway. And they look upon anglers as country bumpkins, sweeping through salmon pools which have been nurtured for centuries like crowds of soccer fans outside a rival stadium.

They pay nowt, respect nowt and, in their free pleasure, can totally destroy a fisherman's day for which he has paid largish sums of money and as often as not put in many hours of voluntary labour is keeping the river and its banks in tip-top nick. Once they have used a pool as a municipal boating lake, the salmon lie sullen for hours.

if the rabid Left in Westminster decide to push through a "freedom to row" bill, the long-term sufferers will be the salmon anglers

These are the people that many Labour MPs would like to be given the freedom of the waters, even on rivers which - in season - can cost a £1,000 an more a week to fish. Much of which is spent by conservation-minded riparian owners trying to stop the salmon going extinct in English and Welsh waters.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) spoke out this week, saying that many landowners allow canoeists onto their waters under voluntary agreements at times when salmon are not running, a system which works well most of the time (See News, Monday).

But if the rabid Left in Westminster decide to push through a "freedom to row" bill, the long-term sufferers will be the salmon anglers and their efforts to conserve the King of Fishes for future generations.

Like the fox, whose numbers have been drastically reduced in some areas by shooting and snaring since hunting was abolished, it would be the countryside as a whole that would be left the poorer. But who cares? Here's another battle in the class war, another chance to bash the toffs.

Your views:

  • I am a middle-aged teacher who has recently started canoeing. While I have been distressed at the antagonistic attitude of some people who fish, generally, most fishermen do NOT seemed disturbed by us canoeing past. We make an effort to go to the opposite side of the river and our quiet passage obviously doesn't upset them; we even manage to exchange pleasantires. I have disentangled a line for one fisherman which had caught in bushes at the far side of the river.

    I cannot see how canoeists are such a dire threat to fishermen and when the person above talks of courtesy, perhaps he could ask fishermen to be courteous to paddlers. I am most thoroughly country born and bred and have a great respect for nature, although I have never felt the need to kill and destroy it. However, I respect the right of town and country people who feel they must kill and destroy and I would like town and country fishermen to respect my right to pass silently and peacefully down a river in a canoe.

    Fishermen and boaters co-exist quite happily in Scotland, where right of access to rivers by all is an accepted way of life.

    Anonymous - Details supplied

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