|Wastwater, the Lake District, England|
Rivers have historically been spaces of recreation, in addition to work, trade, and sustenance. Today, multiple groups (anglers, canoeists, rowers, swimmers) vie for the recreational use of rivers in Britain. But, this paper argues, legal definitions of rights of use have not kept up with the growth of recreational river use. Focusing on two groups, anglers and canoeists, it explores the emergence of conflict between recreational users of British rivers in the twentieth century, and subsequent campaigns for universal public rights of navigation on inland waterways. As a result of conflict (real and perceived), small-scale organized groups have re-conceptualized river spaces in ways that reflect a modern engagement with, and understanding of, water through recreation. This papers foregrounds recreation as a form of water-use that generates important water-knowledge. Grounded in the Environmental Humanities, it draws on notions of legal geographies, ‘modern’ waters, and hydrocommons to suggest that small-scale conflicts on British rivers are challenging how we use, govern, and conceptualize river water.