A RIVER war has broken about between canoeists and anglers over their rights to the River Avon.

The paddlers say they have an ancient right to use the waterway between Salisbury and Fordingbridge while the fisherman say the “garish” craft are scaring away the fish and damaging a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

And some landowners with estates bordering the river have banned the boats, warning they will lose a vital source of income if the anglers go elsewhere.

The row has now got so out of hand it has turned violent - with canoeists saying they have been threatened with shotguns.

There has also been a warning that potentially fatal razor wire will be stretched across the water to stop them using the river.

Now a group of canoeists are set to stage a mass paddle on the Avon in a move that could spark further clashes.

A message posted on the Anglers Afloat forum says at least one person is planning to use razor wire to halt the event.

The paddle was due to take place between Salisbury and Fordingbridge last week but has been postponed because of low water levels.

An invitation issued to canoeists via the internet says an act of parliament passed in 1664 gives them the right to navigate the river.

It adds: “The paddle is not intended to be a mass protest but a positive demonstration of paddling as a legitimate activity on English and Welsh rivers.”

However, the Angling Trust says no such right exists on the Avon and has asked the British Canoe Union to condemn the event.

A trust spokesman described the paddle as an illegal trespass that would harm the river's fragile ecology.

“Gravel beds used for spawning and a water weed which is a vital habitat for invertebrates could be damaged by large numbers of canoes passing through shallow water,” said the spokesman.

“The large, garish craft will also disturb the peace of the river and destroy anglers' enjoyment of their sport by scaring fish away.”

He said police have been informed of the planned event.

Asked about the danger of a confrontation between anglers and canoeists, the trust stressed that it did not condone violence of any sort.

Peter Hutchinson, vice president of Ringwood and District Anglers' Association, said: “Canoeists and fishermen are never going to get along. The majority of canoeists are ok but you'll always get the odd idiot who goes too close to someone fishing.

“They think they own the river but pay absolutely nothing towards its upkeep, whereas the fishermen do.”

Graham Bland of Ringwood Canoe Club said: “We use part of the river once a year with the permission of the Radnor Estate. We don't paddle the Avon at any other time because you tend to get verbal abuse from landowners and fishermen.

“I've also heard about incidents involving firearms. It's a rare occurrence but it does happen.”