In this case Peters and his family had canoed up and down the river more than once and had had a picnic on an island. The Court held that this amounted to substantial interference. Lord Denning also said, ‘No one can doubt that the passing of canoes up and down the river must disturb the fish for a considerable time, and this interferes with the right of fishing.’
It would seem that the simple passage of a canoe down a river would not normally create a substantial interference with the fish. The National Rivers Authority in its Guidance Notes for Bailiffs wrote, ‘In respect of disturbance or hindrance to fish near obstructions, there is little direct evidence that canoes will cause any problems, though their presence in a relatively confined channel through which the fish must pass may act as a deterrent to their passage.’36 If there is little evidence that canoes cause disturbance near an obstruction it would seem that there is even less evidence that they cause disturbance in an open river.
In Halsbury’s Laws of England it is stated that, ‘Lord Denning MR added (although he was not reported on this point) that there are many cases in which a canoeist has a right to navigate; the right may be acquired by long user or by grant or reservation, and if the canoeist has the right, the owners of the fishing rights must allow the navigation and put up with the disturbance of the fishing.’37
The House of Lords Select Committee on Sport and Leisure referred to Rawson v Peters as, ‘one notorious case which has led to litigation.’38 The case strengthened the anglers in their opinion that they had an exclusive right to most rivers in the country. For many canoeists the fact that a judge who was a keen fisherman gave the judgement of the Court of Appeal strengthened their opinion that the establishment was biased in favour of anglers.