THE tragic death of a young girl has led to the creation of a gold standard for canoe hire companies on the River Wye.
Billie Clayton capsized in dangerous conditions whilst canoeing with her twin brother and her father from Glasbury to Hay-on-Wye nine years ago.
And her story became the driving force behind a new British Canoe Union certification for hire companies, that was launched at Hereford Rowing Club last Friday (March 21).
While the Approved Paddlesport Provider qualification covers standard equipment and safety checks, it also requires hire companies to demonstrate an expert understanding of river conditions – and the speed in which they can become dangerous.
The Wye attracts around a 100,000 paddlers each year, and the safety record of hire company’s using it is good, despite the majority of paddlers being novices.
However following an inquest into Billie’s death, coroner Peter Maddox said he would write to the Adventure Activities Licensing Service suggesting the rules for canoe hire undergo a full review.
The result in part is this scheme, which the Environment Agency’s Daffyd Evans said at the launch would be watched closely by the rest of the country.
If successful, the BCU plans to roll the scheme out nationwide.
EA spokesman Lynn Bulbeck said: “We have worked to develop a scheme to address the lack of standards currently in place.
“Sometimes, canoes have been hired to those with insufficient competency for the river conditions, inadequate clothing and a lack of understanding of the risks involved.
“And in 2012 when river conditions were particularly bad, emergency services were called out to rescue canoeists in trouble.”
Around 65 percent of canoe hire businesses in the county are already signed up to the BCU scheme, which is voluntary, and not implicitly linked to canoe hire licences that are awarded by Herefordshire Council.
However the council, EA and the BCU are all backing the programme and the aim is that all canoe hire providers will eventually sign up to the scheme.
Stuart Wyle, of BCU-accredited Wye Canoes, said: “The accident rate is ridiculously low on the Wye.
“It’s a great place for kids to learn to paddle.
“But as an operator you have to understand risk – and the changing dynamics of the river – especially with flood conditions.”
The EA and he council, who used a 1907 watercraft act to put in place stricter licensing for canoe hire, worked with the BCU for two years to create the Approved Paddlesport Provider Scheme.