Canal Magnets

Thousands of Scottish youngsters to risk fines of up to £50,000 on Friday if they throw pocket magnets into canals.
With lockdown easing the Scottish canals authority have issued warnings that anybody throwing pocket magnets into canals risk fines of up to £50,000 a head if they don’t apply for permission to work on an ancient monument. This authority is claiming that all canals are in fact ancient monuments and that every youngster involved in this heinous crime has to get written permission from government authorities (Historic Environment Scotland) or presumably they may end up having to force their parents to sell their houses, even if they don’t own them.
(I am being 100% serious).
This new sport, which is now being undertaken by thousands of kids ( 7000 are registered on one site alone ) involves online buying a kit that includes a magnet, some rope and some gloves and lobbing it into the water, dragging it hither and yon until you catch something. Experts happily agree it can usually take hours to find anything and if you do it is usually a supermarket trolley or an old bike.
However dangers can develop. There have been reports of findings that have included a very rusty gun, possibly once cap firing, a tin can with a wire coming out of it ( which led the police to call the bomb squad ) and something mysterious run on batteries called a rabbit, which is beyond this writers understanding.
The most pressing danger is evidently that the magnet fishers may pull something out of the water and then leave it unsupervised on the bank perhaps causing a passer bye to have a nasty trip.
There is also, obviously ( see government statement below ) the very real danger that in throwing these toys into the water the kids may damage the canal. Aye right.
Faced with such potential catastrophises, which some may see as Darwinian, the canal authority has called up the 1979 act on the preservation of ancient monuments and says that fines of up to £50,000 may be implemented against these criminals.
An organisation that claims to represent the magnet fishers has now been formed and has been having discussions involving the canal authorities, the police and historic Scotland with a view to all the fishers perhaps working in controlled teams ( life jackets mandatory? ) so that the supermarket trolleys et al can be safely disposed of.
This organisation has now applied to the government for a letter so that they can supervise the magnet throwers, though at the time of writing they have yet to indicate that they have a reply, meanwhile Friday looms ever nearer. I imagine the poor police will be having to cancel all leave.
When did traditions of caveat emptor leave our legal system?
Sometimes I am glad to be old.

Comments (10)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    As someone who lives less then 10 minutes’ walk from the Forth and Clyde Canal and who has used it for leisure and fir voluntary work with Scottish Canals over the past 50 years, I support SC in seeking to protect both the historic aspect of the canal network, its leisure value ( which has grown hugely in the past 20 years and its essential function as a major part of flood protection for central Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

    What SC is doing is seeking to regulate the behaviours of canal users, not to inhibit proper usage. What the article is doing is selecting a relatively minor aspect of canal use and drawing a ludicrously and exaggeratedly dire consequence, which is unlikely to happen, even to persistent offenders.

    However, it is possible that BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs could see this as a way to attack the SG, but, I think even such an occurrence would have to be on a day when nothing else of interest happened.

    There might be a job in Private Eye as Philippa Space

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Indeed so are you saying that you support the Scottish Canals threat of suggesting that a fine of up to £50,000 might be levied on those who drop magnets into the canals as such behaviour contravenes the 1979 act protecting ancient buildings.
      There are two points here. Firstly using inappropriate legislation. The authority is well known for having a large staff of high earners and I am not impressed. It is perfect legitimate for the authority to call in the police if rubbish is left on the bank who could then use current legislation to address the issue. To threaten people in this manner is at best comical and at worst bullying and bringing the law into disrepute. I share your love of the canal. I have rowed it in an eight foot dingy and cycled its length on an electric bike ( see Herald ) . My experience was that it had a huge amount of rubbish in it which was wasting some of its potential . These kids should be left to help clear it, and punished if they do specific wrong, not threatened with a criminal record and a £50,000 fine. Good idea. I must contact the BBC withg the story. many thanks. MM

  2. Mark Bevis says:

    I had to check it wasn’t April 1st.
    Not heard of magnet fishing in the canals. Round here they use grapnel hooks mainly in the search of salvageable scrap metal, and sometimes leave bits of bikes on the towpath. I can’t imagine any magnet being strong enough to lift some of the junk in the bottom of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.
    Rather than being fined, they should perhaps look to paying people who voluntarily clear the canals and rivers of litter. Another classic case of a government agency/trust adopting an arrogance about ownership of public goods, rather than running them as a public service for the common good. We see it here where the Canal & Rivers Trust “demand” that you have a license to cycle on the towpath – there is no cost, nor enforcement (yet), and nobody bothers, but it just another step in the enclosure of the commons by unelectable bodies. At some point I would imagine they will be given permission to put meters and barriers on the canalpath entrances to enforce it. After that it’ll be extended to walking on the towpath.

    Talking of which, I was musing the other day, would it be possible to repeal all the Acts of Enclosure issued since the 1600s, and what would happen if it were done?

  3. Tim Hoy says:

    I was in a discussion this week with one of the local canal volunteers (and boatyard owner). He offered to use one of the working boats he had restored to salvage and clean up all the debris abandoned by freelance magnet anglers. He told me that neither Canal & River Trust (here) and the British Waterways (there) are doing anywhere near enough to engage with these people. There will always be exceptions, but instead of fining them, they could engage and work together to make it safe. Reminds me of the time I lived in Greenock in 1980. All my friends had CB radios, but then it was legalised and that was the end of that.

  4. Pub Bore says:

    In late 2020, Scottish Canals entered the UK’s first magnet fishing agreement with Official Magnet Fishing Scotland, the new national body for the sport in Scotland.

    Official Magnet Fishing Scotland is currently in the process of applying for scheduled monument consent from Historic Environmental Scotland which will allow members of the group to carry out the activity across the network. To magnet fish on Scotland’s canal network, you must be a member of Official Magnet Fishing Scotland, which will be covered by scheduled monument consent.

    In 2021, Scottish Canals will publish the UK’s first magnet fishing information and guidance leaflet which promotes safe working practices and useful contacts for magnet fishers.

    Magnet fishing (which is technically a form of dredging) on a canal without consent, however, will still be viewed as ‘unauthorised work on a scheduled monument’ and could indeed lead to fines under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act.

    1. Maxwell Macleod says:

      Sir, Thank you as ever , I enjoy your posts, but of your kindness help me on a couple of points. You say that in order for a youngster to be allowed to throw toy magnets into a canal they must first be a member of ” The official magnet fishing Scotland.” Tell me about this organisation was it elected, or chosen by the people it now has to negotiate with? I know not. Are they insured to act as implementers of government policy. You say that to be allowed to magnet fish you must be a member of this body. You then say that this body is going to be covered by scheduled monument consent. You them tell me that the body has yet to be so awarded permission. So how do you know its going to get it? Finally you assure me that it is all legal as here we go again, the law that is going to chase these kids is in this case based on the extraordinary notion that all canals are in fact buildings. And the crime all this palaver is trying to prevent? Taking rubbish out of a heavily polluted canal. Now Sir I hold no grudge against you, the canal authorities the newly established body or indeed the fishers themselves, indeed I wish them all well. My point is simply that I am not entirely convinced that there might not be a better way of handling all this. Best MM.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        Scottish Canals is the public body that the Scottish government set up to manage and maintain Scotland’s inland waterways when that responsibility was devolved to it in 1998. Like all such government agencies, Scottish Canals is responsible to the demos through the oversight of its activities by the latter’s elected representatives in the Scottish parliament. That’s the nature of its democracy.

        Since Scottish Canals is facilitating the whole process with Historic Environmental Scotland, I think we can be fairly confident that the required consent will shortly be granted (if it hasn’t been already – there’s been a shift on to get the matter done and dusted before the easing of lockdown).

        The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 protects Scotlands’ canals from (among other things) potentially destructive dredging for scrap by classing them as scheduled monuments of national importance. What Scottish Canals is doing is to effectively decriminalise ‘hobby’ magnet fishing by arranging for a ‘blanket’ license to be issued to its community, subject to the latter’s adherence to an agreed code of practice.

        There might indeed be a better way of resolving this conflict of interest between conservation and recreation (there usually is), but Scottish Canals does seem to have made a decent fist of resolving the legal anomaly. Any solution that solves the problem is the ‘right’ one.

        1. Maxwell Macleod says:

          Sir, Many thanks. I am tempted to dismantle your comment that any solution that resolves the problem is the right one (” Large men with batons hitting people ? ” ) but I accept that that would be plain ridiculous so wont, particularly given your thoughtful response, for which I am grateful. I am still not entirely convinced that this is not taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut, but would happily concede that I dont really know what I am talking about and have posted as much out of curiosity and need for information over what seems ridiculous . Sorry but I am still not convinced. You say that the permission will almost certainly be granted, well that is an assumption, particularly given that the situation has now been going on unresolved for many months. I am also intrigued by what seems to have been a random creation of a body to represent an interest group by its contrary party, though will happily take advice and information on this. You say that the process is to decriminalise those currently undertaking the practice of dropping magnets into the canal….och enough already, I have made my point and so have you. Thank you for your courtesy MM

          1. Pub Bore says:

            Yes, the creation of Official Magnet Fishing Scotland does seem to be a legalistic expediency designed to facilitate the process of decriminalisation.

            For such a wee country, we do seem to be evolving a government of byzantine complexity. The difference between trailing a magnet through the sludge and ripping up a canal bed with grappling hooks would, you’d think, be more simply and straightforwardly discernible. But that’s the nature of Leviathan, alas!

            But complying with the regulation is essentially no different from having to obtain an angling license.

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