A HUGE row has flared up in Bradford on Avon between Kennet & Avon Canal boaters and people using the towpath for exercise during the coronavirus crisis.

Runners, cyclists, dog walkers and ramblers are still using the towpath for social and recreational purposes even though they have been told by the government to stay at home and only go out to exercise once every day.

Their actions have upset some members of the boating community who say they should not be using it at all or keeping a social distance of six feet.

The Canal and River Trust, which manages the canal, has been forced to step in at the request of Bradford on Avon Town Council, to warn people not to use the towpath and stay at home.

A boater community spokesman, who did not wish to be identified, said: "There are a lot of anxious boaters out here having issues with people not respecting social distancing.

"It is all getting quite stupid and heated. Some people are being inconsiderate and others are being abused."

The Canal & River Trust said: "Whilst our towpaths remain open, use of them should now be limited.

"If our canals and rivers are local to you, and you use the towpath for your daily exercise or journey to undertake essential work, please now avoid any stretches with boats moored against the towpath, and strictly observe social distancing at all times, following the latest advice from Government."

Town council leader, Cllr Dom Newton, said: "The sign was placed there by the CRT who own the towpath, with agreement from Wiltshire Council who have responsibility for public footpaths and Rights of Way, and following requests from the town council too."

"I've been saying this for a week now, follow the rules.l As a society, for survival, your personal rights and freedoms are being curtailed for the greater good."

Posting on local social media, Kev Kyte said: "This will do nothing other than antagonise the situation between boaters and non-boaters and will, in fact, create further animosity."

Dru Marland, from the boating community, said: "A lot of us, and possibly the majority, are happy with continued use of the towpath by considerate people.

"I, and probably we, are less happy with runners panting noisily, spitting and ignoring the injunction to maintain separation."

The CRT added: "Our priority remains to support the national effort to keep people safe and help fight the pandemic, and strictly follow Government advice.

"In light of growing concerns, we ask people to please be aware of how busy your local towpaths are, and in particular where boats are moored against the towpath.

"Where towpaths are likely to be busy, our advice now is to restrict your use, and only to use those towpaths that are local to you, are quiet, and are largely free of moored boats.

"Please exercise your judgement and always strictly follow the Government advice on social distancing. We hope that we can all resume normal use of all our waterways and towpaths once the national crisis is over."