The River Stour is one of the country’s oldest statutory navigations and this public right of navigation remains today as administered by EA.
Smaller craft, such as canoes and kayaks, can navigate the entire navigable stretch (approximately 25 miles) between Brundon Mill, upstream of Sudbury in Suffolk, and the sea at Brantham in Essex, by portaging around the various waterway structures. Powered craft, with certain specified exemptions such as the River Stour Trust’s trip-boats, are currently restricted to the 3-mile stretch between Ballingdon Bridge and Great Henny.
For over 50 years, the trust has continued to work towards restoring and conserving the Stour Navigation for the benefit of everyone. It seeks through-navigation for craft that cannot be portaged, improved river access, and a byelaw change to permit powered craft along the entire navigation. The trust has enabled thousands of people a year to discover and enjoy this world-famous river. It has restored four of the 13 derelict locks including the three Constable locks at Flatford, Dedham and Stratford St Mary.
The trust operates a fleet of seven trip-boats along the 3-mile stretch at Sudbury and the 8-mile stretch in the Dedham Vale. It issues craft registrations for non-powered craft on behalf of EA. It owns vital river access points as well as managing a couple of riverside venues, all of which are enjoyed by the local community and visitors alike.
The riverside venues in particular help engagement with those who are unfamiliar with the river and its benefits. The historic Granary building was restored by the trust in 1989 and is enjoyed for a variety of purposes including classes, social functions, weddings and a tea room run by trust volunteers. The Visitor Education Centre was purpose built over ten years ago by the trust to expand its educational activities as well as being available for community use. The venue closed in September 2018 following a fire and the rebuild works were finally completed in autumn 2020.
The trust’s current major project is bringing Dedham Lock back into operation. The lock gates have been produced with funding provided by Enovert and are in storage. Additional funding is sought for their installation and to fix the lock island erosion that places the integrity of the whole lock in jeopardy.
The trust also organises various events throughout the year to actively encourage use of the river and to promote the trust’s aims. Its flagship event is Sudbury to the Sea (S2C) when 300 craft navigate the length of the river over the course of a weekend in September, overseen and encouraged by the trust’s volunteer marshals.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact and the trust’s usual activities were halted meaning income was greatly reduced. But the virus has also highlighted the benefit of the river to physical and mental well-being. During the summer people flocked to its banks, whether to walk beside it, enjoy a picnic, go angling or take to the water by canoe, kayak or paddle-board. These are people who might otherwise have holidayed abroad but have now discovered the jewel on their doorstep.
The trust is busy behind the scenes looking ahead to 2021. After the first lockdown, use of the waterways was one of the first permitted activities, and the River Stour certainly enjoyed a record number of users during this period.
So many people can now enjoy the beautiful river, thanks to the dedication and efforts of the River Stour Trust. There is much more to achieve and the trust remains dedicated to preserving the Stour for everyone.