The growing number of paddlers flocking to Britain’s waterways has prompted new official guidance on how they should behave, including avoiding scandalising passing ramblers when changing in public.
An official Paddlers’ Code for England, set to be launched in the summer, will advise canoeists, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders on how to protect wildlife and spot pollution.
It is the first addition to the new Countryside Code, relaunched last year with advice for visitors and landowners to try smiling at each other to defuse tensions.
Now wording has been agreed with Natural England and the paddlers’ code is set to be the first “supplementary” code to the official guidelines, with more potential future rulebooks to follow covering horseback riding and other uses of the countryside.
Ben Seal, the head of access and environment at British Canoeing, said: “We want to create a consistent set of words that can be used all over that can inform the paddling community about our behaviour, environmental protection and safety.”
The code includes advice for paddlers to “change in a discreet and considerate way” and to “park respectfully” without blocking narrow roads, gates, or driveways.
He added: “If you go paddling there’s not changing rooms everywhere, so people get changed in their car, behind their car, behind a bush. It’s about being respectful of local residents and anybody who passes by.”
To protect nature, they are asked to avoid dragging and sliding crafts on river banks and to avoid gravel beds, which can be important spawning grounds for fish.
The code also includes safety advice, including wearing a buoyancy aid and avoiding water that looks or smells bad. Pollution incidents can be reported to the Environment Agency, it says.
Canoeists are pushing for greater access to waterways, with just four per cent of England’s rivers open to the public. Paddlers can end up clashing with landowners and anglers, who argue that they disturb fish and damage habitats.
Many areas are contested and the rules on access are often unclear and complex. But canoeists argue that they can be environmentally helpful by acting as eyes and ears on the rivers, spotting pollution and picking up litter.
The code will help demonstrate that “we can be responsible users of waterways”, Mr Seal said, adding: “We also have to acknowledge that there has been a growth in new people in the sport and they need the information on how to participate in the right way, in an environmentally responsible way.”
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