Our Position Statements

Recreational activities

As always, and for whatever activity, if people choose to access rivers we want them to do so safely and legally.

The river movement’s overarching body The Rivers Trust provides a guide to wild swimming and we encourage everyone to take a look at all of their hints and tips.

The Trust is keen to promote access to our rivers in all shapes and forms as it strongly believes if you can’t access a river, you can’t enjoy it and if you can’t enjoy it, you are less likely to want to protect it.

However, this should be with the permission of the landowner as there is no general legal right of access.

Activities at single points, like wild swimming, fishing or playing in the river, are a great way to experience this environment and, when done with landowner permission and in sympathy to nature (i.e., following the Countryside Code), are a great way to enjoy this amazing habitat.

Where there are open access agreements (such as the moors) this is relatively straight forward but outside of open access land, and above the tidal limit, access to rivers needs landowner permission.

If you are fishing you also require a rod license alongside the beat owner’s permission.

Access along the length of the river, whether canoeing or wild swimming, requires permission by the owners of each section. In places, there are agreements between several owners to allow access over longer sections and the Trust is keen to help negotiate and promote permissive access where possible and in-line with best environmental practice.

Below the tidal limit there is open navigation rights into the marine environment so other than permission to use the slipways and portage points, wider landowner permission is not needed.

We support The River Trust’s Together For Rivers campaign seeking to introduce bathing water standards for well-used rivers across the UK, so people can swim, paddle, catch and play without worrying about pollution.

Several of our community-involved projects have opportunities to monitor the health of our Westcountry rivers and/or take part in rivers cleans or litter picks. Our Westcountry Citizen Science Investigations team and volunteers do an amazing job of collecting river data to inform our work.

Rivers in the Westcountry are a part of our collective natural heritage; we want everyone to feel connected to and invested in them to ensure they are cared for, now and in future.


We love our canine pals and spending time with them around water. But there are a few things to consider before heading off for walks along the riverbank.

  • If you use flea treatments, do not let your dog go swimming for several days after you have applied it as they contain pesticides that can kill freshwater invertebrates.
    Research from the University of Sussex funded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, highlights the worrying impact of the pesticides used in flea treatments on aquatic ecosystems (in the English rivers tested).
    Its results indicated the highest levels of pollution may be reaching rivers via household drains from sources such as the washing of pet bedding.
    Recommending a review of the use of these treatments, co-author of the paper Rosemary Perkins, a PhD student at Sussex and a qualified vet, suggested introducing stricter prescription-only regulations and not using treatment year-round as steps to help minimise the problem.
  • To help avoid soil erosion of banks, please prevent your dog repeatedly climbing in and out of rivers and ponds, particularly where banks are steep.

You can read the Freshwater Habitats Trust advice for dog etiquette around ponds at https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/flagship/dogs-in-ponds/


Westcountry Rivers Trust – Position Statement Beavers 2023.

Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) acknowledges that there are numerous potential positive and negative outcomes from the presence of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) in our catchments. We believe that to bring the best outcomes for the aquatic environment, and the flora and fauna that is supported by them, the impacts need to be objectively and un-emotionally investigated with open and honest discussion.

 The debate on Eurasian beaver has become increasingly polarized over time. WRT would like to see this change to a more balanced discussion, backed by quality data, for the benefit of the natural environment but without adversely impacting other species, habitats, or practices.

WRT accepts the licensing framework that has been introduced by Natural England as a route towards managing the presence of Eurasian beaver when appropriate. However, there are still concerns over the costs of management activities and who should be liable for such costs.

To represent both sides of the debate and to demonstrate that WRT has taken an open approach to this position statement, a list of potential positive and negative impacts is shown below. This list is presented in no particular order and is not exhaustive but aims to represent all parties in the debate.

Potential positive impacts:

  • Improvements to water quality
  • Improvements to water quantity (flow regulation – drought and flooding)
  • Effective demonstration of a Nature Based Solution
  • Carbon storage
  • Improvements to river morphology
  • Changes to aquatic habitat (gain of specific features)

Potential negative impacts:

  • Economic impact to farm businesses from of loss of agricultural land
  • Economic impact on engineered societal structures such as bridges, culverts, roads, levees, etc.
  • Impacts upon fish migration
  • Sudden release of captured sediments and nutrients in event of dam breach
  • Changes to aquatic habitat (loss of specific features)

Additionally, several factors, groups and issues that need further investigation, representation and resolution are listed below:

  • Interactions with invasive species
  • Compensation to stakeholders and landowners for impacts upon livelihoods
  • Assessment of likely impact on engineered societal structures
  • Effective assessment methods of the potential impacts of beaver activity to aid the decision making for landowners, stakeholders and laypeople.
  • Biosecurity in respect to interactions with livestock.

In keeping with the opening statement, WRT has chosen not to take a stance of being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the re-introduction of Eurasian beavers but rather understanding, preparing, and where necessary managing our rivers, catchments and landowners for any changes and impacts ahead.

Above all, WRT stands for healthy rivers and ecosystems, and believes there is a balance to be found within this debate which ultimately benefits the flora, fauna, people and rivers of the Westcountry.

Our Reports

Electric Fishing Fry Index Surveys 2022

Westcountry Rivers Trust completed electric fishing (EF) surveys throughout a variety of the South West’s rivers and streams during the summer of 2022.

The Rivers Camel, Fowey, Exe, Teign, Lynher and a host of streams in northwest Plymouth each underwent in-depth monitoring and reporting as part of a host of ongoing projects such as Water for Growth and Plymouth River Keepers.

View the full Electric Fishing Surveys complete with methodology, diagrams, results and analysis on our Issuu pages: issuu.com/westcountryriverstrust

Micro catchment reviews

Flood risk is a major issue for numerous communities across the South West.

With the expected future impacts of climate change, as well as compounding factors such as population growth and development, it is a problem that is becoming all the more urgent.

Several projects are currently underway to understand the causes of flooding and investigate potential solutions. This includes the Upstream Thinking – Rapid Response Catchments project and Devon and Cornwall Soils Alliance.

Find out more about our Natural Flood Management (NFM) work in micro-catchment communities to manage flood risks on our Issuu pages: issuu.com/westcountryriverstrust

SWEEP - Aquaculture on the Exe catchment

Understanding of the interactions between land-use, water quality and water use has been a major theme of a £4 million research programme, South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity Project (SWEEP).

Learn more about our work with Exeter University through the SWEEP project on the Exe catchment: SWEEP – Exe Catchment Investigation 2022

Catchment Climate Resilience Review - Bude Climate Partnership

Our in-depth scientific analysis of the Bude Climate Partnership area’s natural resources and geographic characteristics provides the project with a vital toolkit that can be used to future-proof Bude with nature-based solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Working with land-owners, farmers and the community, these maps can be used to guide prioritisation and action in the area.

This work examines in detail various critical features in our landscape and waterways. The area stretches from north of Morwenstow to south of Higher Crackington, and inland to the east as far as the Devon border.

This review is part of Bude Climate Partnership’s work to investigate, test and develop ways to protect the wider Bude area and community against the impact of climate change. 

Visit budeclimate.org/catchment-resilience-project to read the review in full.

Blue-Green Systems publication 2021

‘This research addresses the need to transform success in technical understanding and practical implementation of surface water management (SWM) interventions at a site-scale towards integrated landscape-scale management.’

Read the full publication here: From site-focused intervention towards landscape-scale surface water management using Synthetic Stream Networks and Rapid Scenario Screening | Blue-Green Systems | IWA Publishing (iwaponline.com)

South West Archaeology: Keybridge Weir Archaeological Monitoring and Recording

South West Archaeology Ltd. was commissioned to conduct archaeological monitoring and recording during the removal of Keybridge Weir, located to the north of Tregaddick, Blisland, Cornwall.

This work was undertaken on behalf of Westcountry Rivers Trust as part of a proposal to remove the weir to facilitate fish passage. An impact assessment had previously been undertaken.

Read the full report: Keybridge Weir, Keybridge, Blisland, Cornwall: Archaeological Monitoring and Recording 

An Overview of Aquatic Pollutants Arising from Highway Run-off

The South West has the most extensive road network of any area i the UK. In this report, our Evidence & Engagement Officer Ian Townsend highlights aquatic pollutants from highway run-off.

An Overview of Aquatic Pollutants Arising from Highway Run-off

Sponge 2020 Evidence Review

Find out more about our Sponge 2020 project.

River Tamar Electrofishing Report 2020

Read the results of our electrofishing surveys on the River Tamar in 2020.

Tamar EF Report 2020

River Fowey Electrofishing Report 2020

Read the results of our electrofishing surveys on the River Fowey in 2020.

Fowey EF Report 2020

River Camel Electrofishing Report 2020

Read the results of our electrofishing surveys on the River Camel in 2020.

Camel EF Report 2020

Our Papers

Visualising, Illustrating and Communicating Future Water Visions to Support Learning and Sustainability Transitions

by Dave Forrow, , and

This paper researches how a visual (illustrative), real-world communications platform can support increased traction for considered water use through co-creation.

Full article at mdpi.com/2073-4441/16/1/14