The Farmers' Union of Wales today welcomed the outcome of a National Assembly inquiry which refused canoeists' requests for free open access to Welsh rivers.

Instead, the Assembly's sustainability committee called for voluntary access agreements by landowners, a licensing system for those using unpowered craft on inland waters and a fee for those making a profit out of water-related recreation.

FUW land use and parliamentary chairman Richard Vaughan, who gave evidence to the committee's inquiry, said the union was concerned at the impact any increased, unmanaged access to inland waterways would have on adjacent farmland as there had been several trespass incidences across farmland by users wishing to reach or leave an inland waterway.

"We believe the committee has made a sensible response to the canoeists' demands and we welcome its recommendations which support reasoned discussion on access issues," he said.

"The union is totally opposed to a statutory approach to access to inland waters as it believes there are major farm management issues associated with such a proposal, given the amount of inland water within Wales.

"The FUW strongly believes that if the Assembly is seeking to improve access to any part of the countryside and want to encourage landowners to participate in voluntary arrangements, it must seriously consider ways in which to reduce the liability burden on farmers.

"Feedback from our members suggests that working in partnership and increasing dialogue will prove far more constructive than the introduction of blunt policy instruments which will foster resentment and conflict between all parties.

"It is also important to ensure that all relevant parties are involved in discussions to ensure that any agreement reflects the commercial and environmental priorities identified for that particular waterway."

Mr Vaughan stressed that the FUW is not opposed to water-based activities. "In fact, we have members involved with diversified enterprises that encourage canoeing, kayaking etc, through voluntary agreements, provision of infrastructure and access points to and from the water.

"Many farmers are also actively involved in their local angling associations and much voluntary time, effort and resources are put in by individuals to maintain and enhance the environmental value of the areas they manage.

"Similarly, landowners may incur costs in maintaining waterways which abut their property. Therefore, it would seem only equitable that recreational users, who do not wish to be party to voluntary arrangements, should be required to pay a license fee to the Environment Agency, to help them maintain the resource they enjoy.

"This method would provide revenue to the Welsh economy and assure landowners that licensing comes with a code of practice, which would highlight the need to access or leave waterways on designated rights of way, and provide all users a stake holding in waterways which would act as justification to preserve and enjoy."