Kayaker to conservationist

by Rob Litherland - Save Our Rivers


To act requires a trauma: a realisation that something you hold close is going to be trampled on, or taken, poisoned or broken. And from this trauma grows doubt: who will be there to stand in front of the bulldozer?

What we now know is that there are many who are willing to stand in front of the bulldozer. But the question is, why? In order to save something, people must first know that there is something to be saved. Like so many of our planet’s systems, our rivers are being tampered with — to what effect, is at best unknown, and at worst quantifiably terrible — flooded, drained, industrialised and damaged, rivers are experiencing an existential crisis. Unfortunately, as is so common, it is those with the smallest voices that are most affected by the disruption of river systems: those who rely on the rivers for food, for water, for transport, for jobs. In developed countries we are often removed from natural systems— interfaced by pipes and concrete — to a point where there is little connection between the water in our tap and the river abstracted to draught. We are disconnected to the point of oblivious… connections must be found in different ways. So, to float amongst the eddies and waves of a wild river, and pass between the steep banks of gorges that are habitat and home, these are experiences that provide an awareness of what could be lost. Kayakers are in no way unique in their connection to this environment. A fisherman standing mid flow, as the morning mist rises towards a bluing sky, briefly experiences the world through an otter’s eyes. To go to these places, to float in a boat, to stand on a mountain, to cast fly into flow, they are ways to connect.

There is baggage that comes with words like ‘connection…’ and ‘… awareness’; they imply something esoteric, something that can only be experienced through psychotropic influence, and a supporting orchestra of bongos… but that is to miss the point: when we travel to our rivers, when we journey down them, we are presented to a world outside of our daily experience, a world — if we are lucky — untouched and more natural than we commonly encounter.

As a kayaker I have loved my sport for many reasons and they are often shifting. There was a time when, to me, chasing class 5 was at the heart of kayaking, along with travel to the unexplored and remote… but more so, and increasingly, my kayak is a vehicle into a world that is being lost, a nature that is not yet ransacked, but is so close to the digger’s wheel.