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Canoe access below Tadcaster weir

April 16, 2012

Ancient navigation rights recognised

Lovely article by Chris Hawkesworth in April’s Canoe Focus (2012, No. 193; p18). Canoeists wanted to paddle on the river Wharfe, between the weir and the old road bridge at Tadcaster in Yorkshire.  Local anglers refused, claiming ownership. They said the tidal limit was three miles downstream, so the right to navigate tidal parts of a river did not apply. Under English law, unless there is an ancient right of navigation on non-tidal sections, the riparian owners – that is the people who own the bank – also own the right to access the water and to pass over their stretch of river.

   

Enter Hawkesworth. On the Ordnance Survey (OS) map he noticed a Roman road that must have once crossed the river there. The local Britannia Inn has a sign painting of a barge upstream of the bridge. Some digging in the archives revealed hundred-year-old pictures of boats accessing the corn mill adjacent to the weir. He even found records that the Royalist fleet moored in Tadcaster during the Civil War.

He had a minor setback when the OS map supported the anglers claim on the mean tidal limit, but enquiries of the Environment Agency (EA) soon established that the water was saline at least as high as the bridge, and probably up to the weir. It turned out that, according to the EA, the tidal limit had moved up river as a result of local mining subsidence. Even the long term tilt of the whole UK land mass was working in the canoeists favour.

        

In the face of all this evidence the anglers backed down, and the local council confirmed that the river was a navigation below the weir.

But then someone discovered lampreys living under the left bank. No-one wants to fish them, but they need to be looked after because they are a rare species locally, and easily disturbed.  So if you do paddle here, launch from the excellent access on the right bank and leave the lampreys in peace.

Jim Thornton

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