No right of way along the river
Access to the Severn
Should the 'Severn Way' be renamed 'Near the Severn Way'? It's estimated that around half the riverside path doesn't actually run alongside the River Severn, because there's no right of way.
I had a bit of a shock this morning. In my 18 years as a journalist I don't think I have ever been so frightened while covering a story. I'll explain: I took John Newnham the Footpaths Secretary for the Shropshire branch of the Ramblers' Association down to the River Severn, near the Severn Way on the outskirts of Shrewsbury to talk about access to the river.
No right of way
A large part of the river bank in Shropshire is privately owned and walkers are not allowed. John and I were on the riverbank near Shelton Rough, about to start our interview, when a man, who was in some way, linked to the landowner, got very aggressive about our presence, even though we were on a public right of way. At one point he even took my pen from me to stop me writing.
He seemed angry that we were even talking about the subject and felt that access should never be given to walkers. We bumped into him and his wife again that morning, when we'd all calmed down a little, and he then explained that giving people access would spoil the riverbank and harm its wildlife.
On a section of the river, north of Shrewsbury, known as The Isle, there's an eight-mile stretch where there's no access apart from by boat.
The landowner Edward Tate, says he regularly opens up the route to charity walkers and schools, but wants to maintain control of where walkers and horse-riders go, to protect the rising otter population and his crops.
"We're on the same side...we want to see the wildlife protected...but there has to be control, it's a balance."
Right to roam
Should we have access to one of Shropshire's natural wonders, or is Mr Tate right, should access be restricted to protect the wildlife?
Rambler, John Newnham, map-reading
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, more commonly known as the Right to Roam, has opened up land that wasn't previously accessible to the public, including parts of the Long Mynd, Stiperstones and Hope Bowdler Hill.
The Ramblers, who were instrumental in that campaign, are now concentrating on trying to get access to Britain's coastline. Then, their attention is expected to turn to the UK's rivers and canals.
Rambler John Newnham suggested, "I can't see them being able to oppose access to the riverside... I honestly think it's just a matter of time."
The Country Land and Business Association, which represents landowners, says: "There are ways of negotiating new routes but you have to consider the impact these will have on farmers and land use."
"Privacy issues must also be taken into account - especially where public access might run alongside private homes and gardens," said CLA Director Caroline Bedell.
Neil Willcox is the Head of Countryside and Heritage at Shropshire County Council. He agrees that much of the Severn Way through Shropshire detours away from the river and would like to see the path brought closer to the riverbank.
The River Severn near Shrewsbury
However, according to Wilcox, there are barriers: "Shropshire County Council manage 7,500 rights of way and funding is an issue." He added that he would like, "an externally funded project to improve the Severn Way," which would include negotiations with landowners to improve access to the river.
"Access would depend on the good nature of landowners or a compulsory purchase of land, which isn't desirable and never happens."
John Newnham suggests that 'permissive paths' might be the answer. This is where the landowner has complete control over the path, which does not become a right of way, and can be closed if the landowner wishes if, for example, wildlife or business interests suffer.
The Severn Way between Bridgnorth and Bewdley is wonderful for walkers, he added: "It hasn't suffered by being open to everyone."
So for the time being Severn Way walkers will have to put up with the numerous detours away from the river. Solicitor Clive Jones, who has walked the entire route, said: "Frankly it's a disgrace that, in places, the path veers so far from river.
"The section through Wales and also downstream of Bridgnorth, where the river was navigable and used for trade, are fine. The worst part is in Shropshire."
last updated: 09/10/2008 at 17:27
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Mrs E Foster