Body needed to mediate between canoeists and anglers

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A new body is needed to help solve long-running disputes between anglers, canoeists and landowners over access to Welsh rivers and lakes, a report says.

Ministers in Wales should also have powers to introduce laws affecting inland waterways.

The assembly's sustainability committee admitted it was surprised by the strength of feeling when it called for evidence.

Canoeists wanted free, open access to Welsh rivers but this was not backed.

In its report the committee calls for use of voluntary agreements to diffuse rows between competing water users.

It also suggests canoeists should pay for a licence, something anglers already have to do.

Water sports users had called for the same unrestricted access that is now allowed in Scotland - although the Welsh Assembly Government does not have the same law making powers.

Gareth Bryant of the Llandysul Paddlers club said: "You go to Scotland and you can canoe down pretty much any river you want, and lakes as well, and have no problem at all.

"Everyone you meet on the journey is nice and friendly and there are no problems at all."

He said he felt many canoeists and kyakers would be willing to pay for a licence - depending on the cost and the access it granted.

Anglers argue that they have to have both a permit and a licence before they can fish and say their enjoyment can then be distributed by water sports enthusiasts.

Peter Bowen said: "Canoeing definitely disrupts fishing with regards the disruption of the water.

"I think they should have a licence and it should be regulated."

Gethin Thomas of the Carmarthenshire Rivers Trust said the report may help towards reconciling the opposing camps.

But he added: "There's a lot of work down the line to get the two sides working together."

The committee admitted it had been surprised at the strength of feeling, and was also disappointed in many submissions by the "negative and sometimes aggressive attitudes that were shown".

Committee chairman Mike German AM said the onus on reaching access agreements should be on all parties.

"Striking a balance between those who own the inland water and those who use it, whether they be fishing enthusiasts or water sport fans, has been very difficult," he said.

"But in recommending the pursuit of voluntary agreements with the support of an authority to monitor them my committee colleagues and I believe we have established a good balance.

"The report also contains a set of recommendations to deal with further steps where voluntary agreements prove not to be possible."

Bernard Llewellyn, chairman of NFU Cymru's rural affairs board said: "In our evidence to the Committee we strongly argued against the need to provide a statutory right of access to water and as a result of this we are pleased that the committee recommend that voluntary agreements are the way forward.

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