Islanders Campaigning to Save Heritage Camping & Boating Site

Generations of families who have camped on Shiplake Island from April to September each year for over 100 years have been stopped by the Environmental Agency (EA) this year due to health and safety issues.

The island is a recognised heritage site with 18 camping plots and has a fascinating history.  It was originally privately owned until 1891 when the land was offered for auction for a potential hotel development but a kind benefactor brought the land adding a restrictive covenant to preserve the camping rights and then it was sold at cost to the City of London.  In 1914 the City of London found it difficult to administer the site so they granted a £1 per year perpetual lease for 2000 years with the restrictive covenant in place to the Thames Conservancy. In 1974 the Thames Conservancy was taken into the Thames Water Authority, later to devolve to the Environment Agency.  In the early 1900s the campsite was run by lock keepers who hired out skiffs and punts to islanders.  Plot holders then took on the restoration and maintenance of the rare Victorian whiffs, wherries and punts. The unique set up of the Island enables the nurturing of traditional boating skills and it plays an active role in preserving this heritage. Many islanders compete in the local Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta, one of only a handful of remaining regattas that keeps the legacy skills of skiffing and punting alive.

Danny Prior and his family have been coming to the island to camp for many years. The campers use traditional frames, ropes and canvases. Danny said, “Our family is in its fourth generation on the island.  My wife’s parents, David and Anne Hawkins, met as children there in 1960 when their parents were both plot holders.  Our own children are now between 20 and 11 years old and have grown up going to the island too.  Many other families also date back four generations – or more.”

The first contact the islanders had with the EA was a letter on 17 March this year stating that they were not allowed to erect the camps stating “following an external review of the non-tidal Thames, we have a duty of care and we need to ensure the site is safe prior to opening.”  On 28 April, a month after the islanders would normally erect the traditional canvases another letter was received stating “We are unable to open the campsite this year, due to the immediate health and safety concerns on the site. We will keep you informed of any updates or changes to the situation at the campsite on a monthly basis, with our next update being provided during the week commencing 29 May. It is possible that the review will require significant changes to how we manage our campsites, if we continue to operate them at all.” Danny said: “A few representatives of the island met with the EA at the end of May to discuss the closure but have received nothing since and they cancelled the next meeting which was scheduled for mid-June.  We have tried to engage in dialogue with the EA to address their health and safety concerns, but have got nowhere and so we have started a petition.”

In July there were break-ins to seven of the huts including Danny’s where thieves stole fishing equipment.  There has also been anti-social behaviour and flying tipping of a fridge and washing machine on the island this month.  Residents of Mill Lane called the police about the anti-social behaviour.  Local resident Catherine Saker said, “I have grown up seeing the holidaymakers on the Island. Generation after generation have camped for the summer there. These Thames campsites are a rich part of the rivers heritage and it would be a complete tragedy if they were to disappear.”

Danny added, “We feel privileged to be part of the community in Shiplake and Wargrave for so many decades.  Going to the regatta last week was wonderful but also pretty painful, as we would normally walk back to the island at the end of regatta for a big meal together as a community, with more than 100 of us putting tables in a ring in the centre of the island to celebrate together.  We believe the local community values our presence on the island, our contribution to shops in Shiplake, events like the regatta, our quiet and careful enjoyment of the river and much more – as demonstrated by the response to our petition and the supportive comments from so many residents.”  You can sign the petition here.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: In April, following a review of health and safety requirements and compliance with Public Health Act at Shiplake Island, the decision was made to close the Shiplake Campsite for the season. This decision was shared with plot holders at the time and we recognise the disappointment that created. We are however working with a small group of seasonal pitch holders to overcome current issues with the hope of re-opening the site at a future date.”

  1. Mary Ann Moran says:

    I’ve noticed on the Environment Agency website that it is not only Shiplake Lock (which is so sad), that is impacted From the EA Website To quote:

    “Camping at lock sites
    We are sorry to have to inform you that we have closed all Environment Agency campsites at our River Thames lock sites for the remainder of this year.

    The Environment Agency are reviewing all aspects of our campsite management to ensure we have suitable arrangements in place to meet our statutory obligations and all other legal responsibilities for the sites.”

  2. The Vole says:

    One has to ask what the long-term plan of the EA might be. Currently there are three crossings of the Thames Path shut (Marsh, Temple, Benson), the lock maintenance programme is a shambles, there is no dredging, the only draw-dock for larger vessels on the non tidal Thames is closed, and now people quietly camping on the river bank, custodians for over a hundred years are now, also, prevented from enjoying the Thames.

    So EA – what is your plan for the river?

  3. Chris says:

    It does appear that the EAs current policy is to close down the Thames Path, it’s associated leisure activities and facilities. Rather than spend their budget on repairing and enhancing the river’s environment, their main priority is to risk asses it out of existence. It is about time they reassessed their priorities, pulled their finger out and actually did some work, probably like every other government agency they are working from home and are doing their assessments using Google street view. Get the Thames back open again EA.

  4. kirk buckley says:

    Absolute joke, Four generations of our family has enjoyed Shiplake island for 75+ years but it appears we’re out.
    Wonderful Peaceful environment used by many. A simple quiet way of life No doubt the EA have plans for it . If they attempted to stop pumping RAW SEWAGE into the Thames things may improve instead of worrying about this place. Pathetic.
    Interesting to see how it works out. When camping somewhere that you return to weekly keeping the neighbours happy is important. No loud music, parties, electric lighting or rubbish left behind. Time will tell .


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