Saturday, 23 June 2007

This Blog

Over the last few years I have been receiving an increasing number of phone and email enquiries concerning paddling the River Avon. Many of these are from tourists visiting the area; many others are 'locals' who have, perhaps, enjoyed canoeing during their holidays on the continent and want to take it up here. The vast majority have been blissfully unaware of river access issues and have found it difficult to believe that they are not 'allowed’ to paddle the Avon

Rather than explaining the situation again and again I have prepared this 'blog' to provide some information on the River Avon and the ‘Access’ debate.

This 'blog' has been created in anticipation that one day, not too far in the future, the right of navigation on the River Avon (from Salisbury to Christchurch) will be accepted by all. Hopefully, by that time, it will provide a source of information for all river users
If you have some information on the River Avon that you would like to share, please email me

Friday, 22 June 2007

Alderbury to South Charford

The River Avon flows for approximately 60kms between Salisbury and Christchurch.

For one day a year Ringwood Canoe Club is given permission to paddle through the Longford Castle Estate. Traditionally the trip has run from Alderbury to Downton but, through negotiation with an additional eight tenant farmers and landowners, in 2007 the club was allowed to paddle an extra few kilometres and to extend the trip to South Charford. A total distance of some 10kms.

Sadly, for the remaining 364 days a year the club are only permitted to paddle approximately 400 metres of the river (within the confines of the recreation ground at Fordingbridge) - that is less than 1%

The following series of photographs provide a photo-record of the principal features along the way for the 'one day a year' paddle

Alderbury Access: SU175273
Longford Castle SU171267

The first small weir SU170259
Ducking under a bridge SU172246

The first 'portage' weir SU182236

Just around the corner from the first portage, a bit of 'white water' SU181235

Wild Weirs Hatches, the second portage SU178219

Through the middle arch of Downton Bridge SU178216

The stopper below the big hatch by the old tannery proved a playful but shallow 'surfer' SU180214
At North Charford the river splits, by running the weir on the left branch SU173194
You can rejoin the river below the weir on the right branch SU171190
For the final 'take out' at SU177187

Thursday, 21 June 2007


Of the 60kms of river from Salisbury to Christchurch, canoeists are permitted to paddle just 400 metres located at Fordingbridge Recreation Ground.

There are some 150 young people who belong to the local Scout groups who enjoy learning to kayak and canoe on this short stretch of river.

Members of 1st Sandleheath Sea Scouts enjoying some expert tuition at Fordingbridge

Sadly they need to travel well outside the region to find a river that they are allowed to paddle for any distance

East Mills Weir

East Mills weir, 1km upstream from Fordingbridge (Grid Reference SU157144), potentially offers a unique local feature for canoeists providing an ideal and friendly ‘training ground’ for practicing basic ‘white water’ skills. Indeed, it is, as far as I know, the only local site that offers this. I paddled at the weir on a few occasion in 1998, with the permission of the, then, owner of the Manor House at the Mill. On these few occasions the weir provided a safe ‘stopper’ or hydraulic with a natural flow through (on river left) to allow canoeists to exit the slot with comparative ease.

The weir is situated at an Environment Agency Depot and, consequently, I, on behalf of a local Canoe Club, sought permission from the Agency, in 1999, to paddle here for one or two evenings a month. Unfortunately, the Agency’s ownership is limited to the depot area and river bank. The river bed and fishing rights are owned by the Manor House that had recently changed hands.

The Agency was happy to grant access for canoeing providing consent was given by the new owner of the Manor House. Unfortunately, such consent was denied outright (indeed, the owner refused to even discuss the issue) and any potential ‘access agreement’ was, at that time ‘dead in the water’
Sadly this very much represents the pattern and outcome of access negotiations by canoeists, canoe clubs and the BCU across the country. Voluntary Access agreements across England and Wales have only managed to secure permission to paddle around 1% of rivers - and these rare agreements are often highly restrictive in nature, allowing paddling for a few months of the year

The Fordingbridge Regatta

Inaugurated in 1889, the Fordingbridge Regatta was held on the River Avon each August until 1928. At this time there was a rowing and sailing club. These regattas were so popular that they attracted people from as far away as London and trains were laid on to bring people to the station at Fordingbridge. They became known as the Hampshire Henley. It was a very festive occasion, with hundreds of people enjoying the water sports from the illuminated river bank

Historically the Avon played a much greater role in our lives and communities. Now it has become the preserve of the few

A Short History of Navigation on the Avon

The river Avon rises in Wiltshire (near Pewsey) and flows for 65 miles to the sea near Christchurch in Dorset.

2550 BCE: One theory puts forward that the bluestones of Stonehenge were brought from Wales, via Lundy Island (as suggested by Rodney Castleden) and then around the Cornish Peninsula to the Salisbury Avon and up river to Salisbury and Amesbury

1535: A Commission was appointed in order to clear weirs and obstructions from the river. It is likely that this was to allow navigation but no action seems to have resulted

1623 the Water Poet, John Taylor, wrote an account of a journey he made from London following the south coast to Christchurch in a wherry, accompa­nied by four friends. From Christchurch he was rowed up the river to Salisbury

In 1664 an Act was passed for making the River Avon navigable from Salisbury to the Sea. (36 miles) Work did not start until 1675 and the navigation opened in 1684. Traffic on the river at this time included 25 ton barges. The Avon remained navigable to small craft for 50 years Traffic ceased about 1730

Ten navigation cuts were constructed between Salisbury and Christchurch The first of these runs for about 2 miles from below Harnham Bridge, Salisbury, past the village of Britford, to rejoin the main river by Longford Castle. Other cuts were at Downton, Horseport (close to Fordingbridge), Ellingham Church, Ringwood, Avon, Sopley and Winkton,

In 1730 plans that had been intended to make Ringwood an inland port were finally abandoned and the river was used thereafter solely for pleasure craft.

1889 witnessed the inauguration of the Fordingbridge Regatta. This was held on the River Avon each August until 1928. At this time there was a rowing and sailing club. The Regatta attracted people from all over England and became known as the Hampshire Henley

In 1907 the ancient public rights to sail boats on the river at Ringwood were denied by the fishing and riparian inter­ests, and although the case was brought before the High Court, there was not enough money to pursue it successfully

Very little remains of the navigation and much of the river is inaccessible to the public. Many changes have happened in the Avon Valley in the three hundred years since barges travelled the waterway. The construction of water-meadows, particularly in the 18th century, has had a great effect

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Conflicts and Canoeing

There should be no conflicts. Canoeing is Low Impact

  • It causes no pollution
  • It leaves no trace of passing
  • It is an ideal way to access the water environment
  • It gives people a better understanding of the landscape, habitats and wildlife around them
  • There is no evidence that canoeing disturbs spawning grounds or fish stocks
  • We don’t even leave footprints as we float along
The more people use rivers the more they will cherish them and want to protect them

A Right Of Navigation? The National Debate

The problem we face in England and Wales is that the public are denied access to and along 98% of rivers. The legal situation is different in most other countries in the world, where canoeists are generally able to paddle large and small non-tidal rivers without seeking permission, as the beds of these rivers are not privately owned. Under these different and more open regimes there is very little, if any, conflict between land ownership, angling and navigation interests - each having rights to the use of the water.

In England and Wales it is currently assumed that the law dictates that whoever owns the land along the river bank (the riparian owner) also owns the property rights to the river bed. If a river doesn’t have a public right of navigation and you haven’t got consent from the riparian owner, you’re committing trespass by paddling, swimming or even wading

The Magna Carta gave free Passage of all rivers for ships and boats. This public right of navigation has been effectively ‘stolen’ by a succession of legal authors. Prior to 1830 there was a generally acted public right of navigation on all rivers which were physically navigable. Riparian rights are created by statute and there has never been a law giving landowners control over navigation. However, since 1830 successive legal authors have assumed, more positively over time, that the control of navigation is a riparian right.

However, with regard to the River Avon, many argue that there remains a Public Right of Navigation on the River Avon from Salisbury to the Sea by virtue of the Statute of 1664 (see 'History')

The Avon - A Public Navigable River?

Below, a paper written by the Rev'd Douglas Caffyn (January 2007) concerning the right of navigation on the River Avon

The River Avon from Harnham Bridge, Salisbury to the Sea.
A public navigable river.

Most legal texts which deal with the subject of public navigable rivers state that a public right of navigation may be created by Statute, Historic Use or Dedication at Common Law. These are considered in order in this paper. However it is also claimed that there is a public right of navigation on all rivers which are physically navigable. The reasons for this are set out in the paper ‘The Right of Navigation on Non-tidal Rivers and the Common Law’.

Right created by Statute.

In 1664 an Act was passed for making the River Avon navigable from Salisbury to the Sea. (17 Charles II c 12) This section of the river was made navigable but it is thought that part of the works were swept away by a flood soon after. However John Chandler (Endless Street) records that traffic on the river included 25 ton barges.

It is understood that in the early 20th century a gentleman claimed that there was still a right of navigation on the river but that when he was sued for trespass. It seems that the case was not defended and so no precedent was created.

If there was such a case it has now been over-ruled by the Appeal Court in A-G ex rel Yorkshire Derwent Trust Ltd v Brotherton. ((1990) 61 P & CR 198) In this case it was held that when a Navigation Act was passed it created, by implication, a public right of navigation on the river, both for commerce and for recreation, either from the date of the passing of the Act or from the date when the river was made navigable. It was also held that this right continues until the Act is repealed. However if the river becomes silted up so that certain boats are physically unable to use the river then the right of navigation is suspended for such boats. Smaller boats may continue to use the river.

It was held by the House of Lords in A-G v Simpson ([1901] 2 Ch 671) that a river remains legally navigable even if the passage of boats is obstructed by weirs or other structures.

The course of the River Avon has changed over the last four centuries. It has been held that if a river changes its course then the right of navigation follows to the new course. ((1349) 22 Ass 93 and Mayor of Carlisle v Graham ((1869) 4 LR 361)

Thus there is now a Public Right of Navigation on the River Avon from Salisbury to the Sea by virtue of the Statute of 1664.

Right created by Historic Use.

Hatcher (The History of Modern Wiltshire) records that “From time immemorial, the river Avon had been subject to commissioners of sewers, to preserve various rights of fishery and passage. The antient custom of this part of the river was that a passage was to be left free, fifteen feet wide, and twelve feet distant from either bank. This custom was confirmed by the commissioners, in the third year of James the First, 1604 , and the eighth of Charles the First, 1632.”

A copy of an order made at Salisbury Quarter Sessions in 1590-91 confirms Hatcher’s report. 1590-1591, 24M82/PZ3)

It is also confirmed by an Order issued by a Session of Sewers held at Salisbury , concerning the River Avon in Wiltshire and Hampshire in 1605. (Hampshire Record Office, 21 Dec 1605, 24M82/PZ41.)

In 1592 an Order of the Commissioners of Sewers refers to the obstruction of ‘the ffee passage of ffishe swannes and boates’ on the river between Harnham Bridge, Salisbury and Christchurch. (Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, PR/Salisbury St Martin/1899/223 - date 1592.)

Also in the Hampshire Record Office is an Inventory of Joseph Warne of Bisterne, Ringwood, Hampshire dated 1632 which includes ‘Boats and Nets’.

In 1623 John Taylor and his companions rowed a wherry upstream to Salisbury. (John Taylor, All The Works of John Taylor the Water Poet. A Discovery by Sea from London to Salisbury. London. 1630.)

In 1685 two vessels laden with 25 tons were brought to Crane Bridge in Salisbury. (A.T. Morley Hewitt, The Story of Fordingbridge. Fordingbridge. 1965, 42.)

In 1724 Defoe recorded that ‘with a deep Channel, and a Current less rapid, they [the Avon, Willy and Naddir] run down to Christ Church, which is their Port, and where they empty themselves into the Sea; from that Town upwards, towards Salisbury they are made navigable too within two Miles, and might be so quite into the City, were it not for the Strength of the Stream.’ (Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the whole Island of Great Britain. Volume I. (First published 1724.) London: Peter Davies. 1927, 188.)

1753. In Salisbury ‘one of the piers of the north bridge had been taken away, and two arches thrown into one, for the better accommodation of the barges to be drawn up towards the city, as I have been informed they did as high as Crane-bridge.’ (Francis Price, A Series of particular and useful Observations Made with great Diligence and Care, upon that Admirable Structure the Cathedral-Church of Salisbury. London. 1753, 30.)

Where a public right of navigation has been established it can only be extinguished by Act of Parliament, Statutory Authority or by the river becoming physically impassable. (R v Betts, (1850) 16 Q.B. 1022; Vooght v Winch, (1819) 2 B. & Ald. 662) and Josie Rowland v Environment Agency [2002] EWHC 2785)

Thus there is now a Public Right of Navigation on the River Avon from Salisbury to the Sea by virtue of Historic Use.

It is often stated that only a Court can decide if there is a public right of navigation on a section of a river. In the case of the River Avon a Court has made such a ruling.

Right created by Dedication.

Here only the section of the river at Fordingbridge is considered. There may also be other sections of the river on which a public right of navigation has been created by dedication.Hewitt wrote about the Fordingbridge Regattas that ‘In the mid-19th century sailing was a favourite pastime, and about 1850 regattas were being held: … In 1870 a short-lived rowing club was formed, but in 1889 a strong committee inaugurated a rowing and sailing club, their initial regatta being held on the 1st August that year; it became a yearly event until the outbreak of the 1914 War and was so well organised and so popular that special trains were run from London. It even became known as the “Hampshire Henley.” The regattas were revived after the war and continued until 1928, the 26th annual regatta being held on the 12th August, 1925.’ (A.T. Morley Hewitt, The Story of Fordingbridge. Fordingbridge. 1965, 74.)

There is a similar record of the regattas in ‘A History of Fordingbridge and Neighbourhood’ by Reginald Hannen. The book ‘Fordingbridge in Old Picture Postcards’ by Anthony Light and Gerald Ponting has photographs of sailing boats, rowing boats and punts on the river at Fordingbridge.

John Levell, vice chairman of the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, confirmed in a statement quoted in the New Forest Journal dated 14 July 2006 that the river is still regularly used for recreation.

Thus there is such a public right of navigation on the river above and below Fordingbridge.

Any queries about the above paper should be
addressed to:-
Rev’d D.J.M. Caffyn
255 Kings Drive
Sussex BN21 2UR
January 2007.

Access to Non-Tidal Water – The Legal Position

What the BCU (British Canoe Union) say about the legal position is:-

The legal situation

Most inland waters in England are privately owned and to canoe on them without permission could constitute an act of trespass. Where there is no public launching point, or a public footpath to the water’s edge it is necessary for the paddler to get permission to cross private land to access the water. The following notes apply to England and Wales; the law is different in Scotland.

Access to water, the factual position

In 2000 The Government appointed Brighton University to produce a report titled ‘Water-Based Sport and Recreation: the facts’ this established that
  • Approximate length of rivers over three meters wide: 68,310kms. in England & Wales

  • Public or a statutory right of navigation: 2,317kms. (3.5%)

  • Canoes and other small craft can use narrower waters, which often offer the most interesting and challenging water. Therefore the true length of navigable rivers is substantially greater and the percentage available substantially less, estimated at 2%

  • Of the 66,000kms where no statutory rights exist, voluntary access agreements have achieved 812kms (1.2%)

Trespass (under civil law)

If you are canoeing privately owned water without permission, then you might be trespassing. Simple trespass is a civil offence, not a criminal offence. Damages can be awarded against the trespasser (i.e. a fine), or an injunction can be issued to prevent repetition of trespass or to restrain threatened trespass. It is not a police matter unless a criminal offence is committed; this would only be if wilful or malicious damage was done, there was a conspiracy to commit trespass, there was behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace or it was a case of aggravated trespass (see below).

If you are challenged whilst paddling, please be courteous and polite whatever the situation. Avoid anything that could be interpreted as a breach of the peace or conspiracy to trespass (i.e. criminal offences). If you are challenged by an authorised official you can be obliged to give your name and address, If you are accused of trespass and genuinely believe you are exercising a public right of navigation or are paddling within the terms of an access agreement, you should say so and refuse to admit trespass. There is no case if you can prove that you are within your rights or have permission. Where you have a legal right the law requires you to exercise the right reasonably with due consideration for others.

Aggravated Trespass (under criminal Law)

The Criminal Justice Act 1994 introduced the new criminal offence of aggravated trespass. This should not be confused with ordinary trespass, which is a civil offence. To commit aggravated trespass you must first be trespassing; whilst trespassing you must also have the intention of obstructing or disrupting a lawful activity (such as hunting, shooting or fishing) or intimidating those engaged in such lawful activities Canoeists should not fall foul of this new law if they canoe in a peaceful and considerate manner. We have no indication as to how the Police the Crown Prosecution Service and the Courts will interpret the act where paddlers in pursuit of their sport might be involved.

A Protected River Environment

The River Avon rises in the Vale of Pewsey and flows through Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset to the sea at Christchurch.
The River Avon and its tributaries form one of the most diverse chalk stream systems in Europe, and support a wide range of fish, birds, mammals and plant species. They are designated as:
  • Special Area of Conservation (SAC): for its watercourse habitat (largely dominated by water crowfoot), and populations of rare or threatened species, such as sea and brook lamprey, bullhead, Atlantic salmon and Desmoulins' whorl snail. SACs are of European importance for nature conservation and receive the highest level of legal protection
  • Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), supporting important biodiversity action plan species and habitats such as otter, water vole, wet woodland and reed beds and forming part of the nation’s finest natural heritage

The lower reaches of the Avon valley, between Bicton and Christchurch, displays wide fluctuations in water level and parts of the valley are regularly flooded in winter. Consequently, the valley includes one of the largest expanses of unimproved floodplain grassland in Britain, including extensive areas managed as hay meadows and grazing marsh. It is designated as:

  • Special Protection Area (SPA) for wintering Bewick's swans and Gadwall of European importance.
  • Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) floodplain grazing marsh supporting a complex mosaic of wetland habitats, breeding waders and wintering wildfowl. Notable for a wide range of breeding wetland birds, rare plants and wetland insects

Friday, 1 June 2007

River Avon (Disambiguation)

"River Avon" in England literally means "River River"

  • River’ - a large natural flow of water travelling along a channel to the sea, a lake, or another river. Origin Old French, from Latin riparius, from ripa ‘bank of a river’
  • Avon’ - a Celtic word meaning simply 'river' (Welsh afon, Gaelic abhainn)

There are a number of other rivers named "Avon" around the world:


  • River Avon, Devon, Bigbury on Sea near Salcombe
  • River Avon, Warwickshire through Stratford-upon-Avon
  • River Avon, Bristol through Bath and Bristol


  • River Afan is sometimes anglicised to Avon.


  • River Avon, Falkirk
  • River Avon, Strathspey
  • Avon Water, tributary of the River Clyde


  • Avon River, Ontario
  • Avon River, Nova Scotia

New Zealand

  • Avon River, New Zealand


  • Avon River (Western Australia)
  • Avon River (Western Victoria)
  • Avon River (Gippsland, Victoria)
  • Avon River (New South Wales)