Dan Yates is a kayaker and one of the founders of campaign organisation Save Our Rivers. With some notable victories under his splash guard, what lessons does he have to offer campaigning adventure communities?
Dan, how did Save Our Rivers come into being?
In late 2013 multinational power company RWE and local landowners including the National Trust planned to dam and divert the Fairy Glen gorge on the Afon Conwy in Snowdonia National Park. Pre-approval had been sought and granted from the planning authority and the environmental regulator, and it was presented to the local community as a done deal. At a token community-consultation meeting held by RWE, the kayaking community decided to fight back, and Save Our Rivers was born. A three-year campaign was launched and fought alongside the local community and partner non-profits through multiple rounds of planning applications. We took on a multinational corporation, one of the largest landowners in the UK and two government agencies, and we won.
How has it evolved since these roots?
Since then Save Our Rivers has successfully run campaigns against multiple small dams planned in protected landscape areas and proposed legislation changes that would leave our wild rivers less protected.
Are there any things you’re particularly proud of during the journey so far?
Our biggest and most ambitious campaign to date, called National Parks Matter, was run against Welsh Government plans to reduce the environmental protections afforded to our National Parks. We were one of the first groups to act on this, but were soon wrapped up in a huge campaign involving many traditional conservation non-profits. We saw our role as engaging the outdoor sports community in this essentially environmental matter, a group often not targeted by the big conservation organisations. This campaign ran for well over a year, but ended with Welsh Government dropping the plans.
What about frustrations?
Despite the obvious biodiversity crisis we are living through, corporations are still trying to fuck our few remaining wild places for money, and environmental regulators seem perfectly willing to let them do it.
What has the relationship been between the kayaking community and the campaigning team?
As a committed whitewater kayaker I already had a well-established relationship with the kayaking brands and those at the top of the sport, so I guess we had a headstart on that. It was fantastic to see them jump to support our environmental actions and how the wider kayaking community has got onboard.
Especially for other adventure communities looking to launch/support campaigns, are there any key lessons you’d offer for effective campaigning?
Not all activism is marching on the street or tying yourself to a tree. Activism can be done behind a laptop or in a planning-department office. Engage in the legal structures already in place. There are perfectly good environmental laws and regulations in existence to protect the places we love. The problems arise when corporations break these laws and environmental regulators are complicit in letting them. Hold them to account.
Has being involved in campaigning changed your approach to kayaking?
Paddling a river that still flows free, in part, thanks to the efforts I have put in, or hiking in a National Park that we campaigned to protect, gives a whole new level of appreciation for my sport and the places it takes me.
What are the upcoming goals for Save Our Rivers?
Engaging and working with campaigners fighting for the rivers in their local area. I have just returned from Austria and a protest against a dam on the Oztaler Ache, the longest still free-flowing glacial river in Tyrol, as part of a campaign we run alongside local non-profit WET Tirol and WWF Austria. You can check out that campaign here.
How can people engage?