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13 November 2014

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You are in: Shropshire > Severn > Access to the Severn

'No right of way' sign

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 sign

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

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.

"I think it'll be another decade before we have access to the riverbank"

John Newnham, Shropshire Ramblers' Association

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.

Dog by the River Severn

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."

Permissive Paths

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
created: 02/10/2008

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Divert some of the Severn water @ source or Vrnwy to Barmouth estuary, clear the channel, & save on defences downsteam! 60 miles 'stead of 210! Think some students proposed this idea years ago

Mrs E Foster
I live near to the Seven behind the college the paths towards Emstery are completely overgrown with nettles, but money has spent on a wooden bridge over a stream , then there is nowhere to go. Surely a few hours with a strimmer would work wonders.

i live in the country and lots of walkers pass through the farm, most are thoughtful, shut gates after themselves but you always get some who leave rubbish and leave gates open, letting stock out, if walkers want to walk the right to look at the countryside, maybe we should open up the townhouse gardens so us country folk can walk around their gardens when we want, farmers have to pay morgages on their land, its not just given to them, lets have the right to roam with our dogs in the towns aswell

Michael Brick
I didnt know I owned the severn,or any of the places the rablers assoociation lay clam to

Richard Bird
They always have an excuse to exclude people. The severn belongs to us all!

David Maddock
The Ramblers Association is not short of places to walk in Shropshire. Instead of asking for new rights they should be doing more to ensure existing rights remain open. Since moving back to my home county I have been shocked at how many Rights of Way have been illegally ploughed up by local farmers, not mention the others that are overgrown and impassable.It's also hugely hypocritical of the RA to demand new rights for walkers whilst campaigning vigorously to remove access rights to other groups (i.e. motorised users of byways).

Will this affect Adam and Helen's Severn in Seven 7th Oct! Or has it been sorted?

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