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Thread: River Nene Backwaters - a Safety Warning

  1. #1
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    Default River Nene Backwaters - a Safety Warning

    I have been paddling the Nene for longer than I care to remember and have been blogging it on SotP for ten years; many blogs involve the backwaters as, for me, they are probably the most interesting and challenging bits of the river.

    However, I am posting this with a big safety warning in the title as I know many newcomers research the river on SotP and indeed, I have come across newcomers to paddling hanging on trees in backwaters who I later found had gone there as a result of my blogs.

    A good example of what the problem is can be found in this thread from 2016 http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/for...ght=nassington

    I have recently met with the head of the Nene Waterways Team from the Environment Agency who are responsible for the Nene Navigation to voice my concerns - although many of the backwaters are not official canoe routes, those such as Yarwell and Stanwick have been 'Canoe Routes' for around ten years now.

    Nothing that follows should be seen as criticism of the Environment Agency who have been subject to the same cuts to funding as many other public bodies and have a duty to prioritise their resources along the 'navigation'.

    I hope this longish post explains the current situation, how we got here and, more importantly, asks paddlers to ask themselves if their abilities are up to the conditions that may be expected.

    In the summer of 2013 I wrote to Sue Cant of the Environment Agency about the deteriorating state of canoe infrastructure along the Nene – part of her reply read:


    I regret that due to the current economic climate we have no plans, or the means, to provide any new access points along the River Nene.


    In December 2017 I wrote to her again about further degradation – some portage points completely missing, others too damaged to use & the dangerous state of some of the backwaters that had been designated Canoe Routes – this was part of her reply:


    Income collected directly from canoeing is only circa 20K a year and comes nowhere close to covering even the maintenance costs of the portages. Government direction is that funding should come from those who directly benefit.

    I met with Sue on 12th January 2018 as a representative of Friends of the River Nene - this is the EA's position on the backwaters....

    The EA can temporarily close areas of the navigations where it would not be safe for boaters, canoeists, rowers etc to go until such areas are made safe again. Although the EA fulfils its legal responsibilities by issuing Navigation Notices highlighting such closures, and would say that it reasonably expects canoeists to research the suitability of their routes in advance, we agreed that in our non-ideal world many people would not do so.

    Two other factors impact upon Yarwell and Stanwick backwaters; (i) reduced government funding and (ii) riparian owners who are ultimately responsibility for removing obstructions such as falling trees. Funding pressures mean that all works within the EA have to be prioritised. An example of this is that trees falling across a backwater are no longer removed by the flood risk management (FCRM) function of the EA unless they present a risk of causing the flooding of property. Where there are no properties the flood plain is used to manage high flows. The prioritisation of works carried out using Navigation budgets inevitably concentrates on the main navigation channel rather than backwaters.

    However, a sign or notice at Yarwell (at the portage platform above the weir, river right) highlighting the large blocked tree and asking canoeists to consider their abilities against the risks will be looked at.

    Similarly, a sign for Stanwick backwaters will be considered where the backwater leaves the navigation just below the A6.

    The above comes from an agreed set of minutes of the meeting upon which I will give my thoughts:

    Unless the riparian owners are worried about their land flooding or the EA considers downed trees a danger to property then the trees will stay there ad infinitum and generally revert to a wild state which in turn means they will become more challenging and dangerous from strainers.

    I am grateful that the EA, despite their legal duty being limited to issuing Navigation Notices, have been flexible and accepted that at least morally they have a responsibility to highlight dangers in backwaters that they had designated 'canoe routes'.

    To be honest I don't recall ever seeing a Navigation Notice about a blocked backwater; they tend to be about lock closures, trees down on the 'navigation' and shoaling etc but I may have missed them. So where to find these notices - this is the EA's response:

    Re Navigation Notices: the old EA website no longer exists, the majority of public sector organisations websites were closed down by the coalition government in 2010-ish and essential content migrated to gov.uk. It subsequently proved to take too long for our Navigation Notices to be published on gov.uk so we now provide a shared calendar via Northampton Marina’s website https://www.northamptonmarina.co.uk/...works-calendar. There is also information about accessing this calendar on gov.uk but the easiest route is via the Northampton Marina website.

    I'm not totally convinced of the ease of use or effectiveness of this system but that is the system that exists in this less than perfect world......I have found the Yarwell backwater notice here https://teamup.com/ks42748cc81f4df974/events/158336262 but until I asked last week I had no idea where to look for it and I note it was issued 5 days after my meeting!

    Take Care!

    Dick

    PS I will be publishing a list of camp sites and access points along the Nene in time for Easter on www.friendsoftherivernene.co.uk - consider joining them as they exist to help all users of the Nene - boaters, paddlers, swimmers, walkers and fishers alike - to enjoy the river.
    Last edited by Patterdale Paddler; 20th-January-2018 at 08:19 PM.
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

  2. #2
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    Really good blog Dick and I hope people take notice of your advice.
    Over the last couple of years I have noticed how many extra dangers have appeared on most of the Nene backwaters due to large fallen tree limbs being left where they've fallen. I mostly paddle solo and now only consider the backwater routes, if river conditions for my ability, are right. Although some of locks on the Nene are not particularly canoe friendly they do offer a safer passage for inexperience paddlers, family paddling and solo paddlers who, if they find themselves in trouble on a backwater, have no one to raise the alarm. I hope Canoe 2 who run a canoe hire company on the Nene no longer advise people to use the backwaters but maybe this thread link should be forwarded to them.
    Thanks for taking the time to bring these dangers to everyone's attention. Hopefully we can all pass this advice on to paddlers we meet on the river
    who are not on the forum.
    Atb Terry

  3. #3
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    Interesting reading Dick, and it does you great credit that you are trying to improve things on behalf of other river users, as well as addressing the issues that might come when those you have inspired may take themselves out of their comfort zone.

    Glad you are finding some folk approachable and willing to make some changes. Its chipping away one little bit at a time, its clear to me from my own conversations with trusts and the EA that the money has been stretched very thinly in the last few years.

    I have occasionally pondered on whether or not my blogs might encourage people into what they think are simple little lowland rivers, yet still have their dangers in surprisingly modest flow levels. I have it in the back of my mind when paddling, and especially when blogging, and I know many of my companions do also. For example Peter, Impcanoe, is clearly often thinking about what would happen if newcomers followed our paths, and when we are on the more potentially popular sections of our local rivers, I've witnessed him quietly making an extra effort with a saw to ensure that a beginner would have a reasonably easy passage past a fallen tree. I would never advocate the removal of all the fallen trees, as there are very strong environmental reasons why they should be left at least partly in place. On a stream I expect to be little travelled, or not appeal to beginners, I will clear only the minimum for me and my companions to pass. If its somewhere likely to attract more people, including beginners, maybe its right to open it up a little more. Sorry, slight tangent there!
    Covering as many malmiles as possible before being distracted by the pub!

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  4. #4

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    I recently went into canoe 2 at there new home at Rushden Lakes for advice as to where to go to paddle as a novice and ultimately advised to use various local backwaters? This was late last year so at that point no high waters etc.

    Sent from my HUAWEI VNS-L31 using Tapatalk

  5. #5
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    It's a sad state of affairs overall but it's to your credit that you maintain communications. It sounds as though the EA themselves are no more happy about it than anyone else. As things stand, nobody benefits and the existing investments are being lost too.

    Frecnh attitudes seem to be more localized within the area and centered on the tourism potential so in my local area I've seen year on year improvement to general river safety, portages and Glissieres.
    MarkL
    www.canoemassifcentral.com
    Canoe outfitting packages in the Massif Central


  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twiggy28 View Post
    I recently went into canoe 2 at there new home at Rushden Lakes for advice as to where to go to paddle as a novice and ultimately advised to use various local backwaters? This was late last year so at that point no high waters etc.
    From their new base at Rushden Lakes you could easily paddle Higham Ferrers, Stanwick and Addington backwaters assuming you go downstream - in normal conditions they will give you no difficulties but I would not send a novice down Stanwick backwater in anything high or fast (it's a river not a canal so even in summer the levels can go up overnight).

    Stanwick backwater requires the ability to manoeuvre across currents at fast bends taking you under trees and paddle backwards/hold station in these conditions. It is a backwater that the EA have agreed to look at signing before you leave the navigation. As the backwater is mostly within Stanwick Lakes park/reserve/countryside attraction there will be no pruning as no properties are at risk and the birds don't mind flooding - it will get worse.

    Higham backwater has an unguarded weir and is far from easy to get out at the flood defence sluice - hence portage platforms at the lock.

    If you go upstream and get out into Ditchford backwater you will find a good few low trees too though nothing too horrible.

    I could go on but won't!

    Please don't think this is criticism of Canoe2 as I wasn't there when you asked the question & they are well regarded locally.
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patterdale Paddler View Post
    From their new base at Rushden Lakes you could easily paddle Higham Ferrers, Stanwick and Addington backwaters assuming you go downstream - in normal conditions they will give you no difficulties but I would not send a novice down Stanwick backwater in anything high or fast (it's a river not a canal so even in summer the levels can go up overnight).

    Stanwick backwater requires the ability to manoeuvre across currents at fast bends taking you under trees and paddle backwards/hold station in these conditions. It is a backwater that the EA have agreed to look at signing before you leave the navigation. As the backwater is mostly within Stanwick Lakes park/reserve/countryside attraction there will be no pruning as no properties are at risk and the birds don't mind flooding - it will get worse.

    Higham backwater has an unguarded weir and is far from easy to get out at the flood defence sluice - hence portage platforms at the lock.

    If you go upstream and get out into Ditchford backwater you will find a good few low trees too though nothing too horrible.

    I could go on but won't!

    Please don't think this is criticism of Canoe2 as I wasn't there when you asked the question & they are well regarded locally.
    I am sure the fella I spoke to was very experienced and knowledgeable, it's a shame, to me, he came across as a twerp. Just my thoughts! He didn't mention anything about current, stoppages, etc etc. He was quite condescending when he realised that we were after advice and not a sale.
    Hey ho, nice location he has though. Great spot.

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkL View Post
    It's a sad state of affairs overall but it's to your credit that you maintain communications. It sounds as though the EA themselves are no more happy about it than anyone else.
    Spot on Mark - the EA would love nothing more than a series of canoe trails using backwaters from Northampton to Peterborough - they are part of the Nenescape.org partnership which commissioned this 140 page report of what could be https://static1.squarespace.com/stat...2016+final.pdf

    Sue Cant from the EA is a nice lady who is a professional in her field and passionate about the river but without cash she's in a difficult position...............I believe that cordial relations, not crying wolf or gilding the lily are the best way forward for Nene paddlers but I do have a few worries too about the commercialisation/development influences on the EA.

    I know it's unlikely in my lifetime but if the backwaters get too popular I'm off to the Welland!
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

  9. #9
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    See http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/for...529#post652529

    The worst effects of the tree down in the Yarwell backwater have been tackled but the portage point will remain closed until the EA decide otherwise.
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

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