River Wear: Durham Sands “Free Stretch”

12 Oct

Below is the Wear Anglers Association (WAA) understanding of the restrictions that are currently in place for fishing the “Free Stretch” at Durham Sands. Restrictions have been put in place for various reasons by the Environmental Agency (EA), Durham City Council (as was) and the City of Durham Freemen. The situation is not clear cut with some water in dispute. The statements below set out the current position as WAA understands it:

  • A national EA bye-law prohibits fishing within a distance of 25 metres upstream and 95 metres downstream of Framwellgate Dam on both banks of the river.
  • A Council bye-law prohibits fishing from the footpath along Framwellgate Waterside on the North, left hand bank. This bye-law runs from Milburngate Bridge downstream to the end of Framwellgate Waterside. It bans fishing from the road and footpath and includes the grassy bank near the steps. We are told by the EA the council bye-law is quite precise and explicit to the area it covers and if anglers wish to access the river via the steps and fish from the river or the small areas that have built up in the river along the years they are free to do so provided they do not encroach upon the EA prohibited area below Framwellgate Weir. This bye-law was introduced on health and safety grounds to protect pedestrians. WAA are very concerned about the dangers to anglers of entering the river at this point particularly when the river is in spate and would  strongly advise against it. 
  • Fishing on the South, right hand bank is much less clear and is disputed; the trustees of the City of Durham Freemen claim to have controlled the fishing rights to this stretch of water since at least the 14th century and closed fishing downstream from Framwellgate Dam to opposite the White House; a distance of approximately 500m. This restriction was put in place for conservation purposes. However 350m of “free fishing” was set aside by The Trustees of the City of Durham Freemen on the South, right hand, bank at the eastern end of the Sands that runs downstream from opposite the White House towards Kepier. Some anglers have challenged the authority of the Freemen of Durham to close this stretch, in that the Freemen do not appear to be able to show any documentary proof they do exercise any control over the fishing. This challenge arises from records of the Commons Commissioners dated from 1860 that assign the Freehold of the Sands Area to the Durham Corporation, now Durham County Council, for the purpose of using it for “public walks and pleasure ground”. To enable this to happen the Freemen, in 1860, agreed to take on the herbage rights. There is no mention of fishing rights. As to whom ultimately owns the fishing rights is a civil matter and not for either the EA or WAA to decide. It is up to individuals to take responsibility for, and make, their own decision as to the wether they believe they can fish this water or not; but anglers must not encroach upon the EA prohibited area below Framwellgate Weir. WAA would hope anglers would act responsibly and follow the restrictions imposed by the Freemen of Durham as these were introduced with the best of intentions for conservation reasons in order to protect migrating salmon and sea trout in this vulnerable part of the river.