Gallery: Open up the rivers to paddlers says chairman at annual Sudbury to the Sea event


- Credit: Andy Abbott

The law should be changed so more waterways can be accessed by canoeists and kayakers, the head of a Suffolk river navigation charity has said.

Chairman of the Sudbury-based River Stour Trust, Andrew Richardson, would like to see paddlers given the same freedom as ramblers, whose right to roam is legally enshrined.

At present, according to the British Canoe Union, less than 4% of the 68,000 kilometres of rivers in England and Wales have any public access or right to navigation.

Mr Richardson was speaking at the start of the Trust’s annual Sudbury to the Sea event, a two-day, 25-mile journey from Sudbury to Cattwade, which this weekend attracted more than 500 people in 300 boats.

The Trust, whose founding principle is to ensure the River Stour is kept navigable for people to enjoy, holds the event to celebrate the openness and heritage of the river running along the Essex-Suffolk border.

He said: “The popularity of this event shows what can be be achieved when you make a river accessible to people.

“Sudbury to the Sea started off in the 1960s as an act of trepass, as a venture to ensure the river was kept navigable and even eight or nine years ago there were only 60 or 70 boats taking part. People enjoyed it and kept coming back year after year and brought their friends. Today we see more families and children taking part.”

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“We now cap the event at 300 boats and over the past few years we require people to pre-register and have to turn people away.” According to Mr Richardson, who says he was intially inspired to join the Trust after taking part in a Sudbury to the Sea event a decade or so ago, one reason for the rise in the popularity of canoeing is work the government has done in promoting it as a recreational sport. But, he says, it should be doing more to open up rivers to the public.

He added: “The government has promoted canoeing as a sport for people but has only gone halfway. More than 90% of rivers are not open to the public – many of them have been closed off by landowners who have sold the rights to fishermen and things like that.

“You can’t paddle on the River Gipping or on the Stour upriver from Sudbury, for example. It’s time the government declared a right to paddle, similar to the right to roam on land.