CANOEISTS pulled off a masterstroke by completing a £125,000 fundraising campaign to save a local beauty spot, the Symonds Yat Rapids, and they celebrated with a mass descent into the water on Saturday, alongside the Royal Hotel. Work has just finished on upgrading the Yat Gorge's historic rapids, which were facing extinction 14 years ago when the previous owners proposed flattening the river bed to improve fishing. Canoeists and nature lovers banded together under the umbrella of the Symonds Yat Rapids Management Group to buy, stabilise and improve the river bed to ensure wild water in an area where conservation is actively encouraged. Campaign spokesman Graham Symonds, who runs canoe trips down the river, said: "This is truly a history making project. The rapids have been purchased by canoeists and the British Canoe Union so people can enjoy this area for years to come." After the official opening there were freestyle, slalom, rescue and whitewater displays. Riding the rapids became a must-do on the Wye Tour of the late 18th Century - a rowing trip down the river undertaken

by the likes of poets Wordsworth and Tennyson and naval hero Nelson, which is regarded as the beginning of the British tourism industry.Recommending the experience, William Gilpin in his 1770 guide book 'Observations on the River Wye' wrote: 'The whole river at this place makes a precipitate fall... enough to merit the title of cascade.' Taking its name from a 17th Century Sheriff of Herefordshire called Robert Symonds and 'Yat', the local name for a gate or pass, the area sees the Wye pass through a steep gorge

in what is today an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. NewWeir was installed at the site of the rapids to allow the passage of vessels trading in timber, coal and iron ore more than 200 years ago, while the island sitting in the middle of the crashing water was created by iron ore slag from a nearby smelting works.

For the last 60 years, it has become a popular white water destination for canoeists, as well as paddlers passing through on a more leisurely trip down river. Wyedean Canoe Club has produced champions, Olympic competitors and international expedition canoeists there, while BCU slalom competitions have also taken place on the rapids, which are the only ones of their kind in the south of England in spring and summer. After a crisis meeting of paddlers, a national fundraising appeal to buy and preserve the rapids was

launched in 1998 at the International Canoe Exhibition at the NEC, with donations flooding in from schools, scout groups, canoe clubs and individuals around the country. The ongoing appeal has raised more than

£50,000, with the Environment Agency contributing another £50,000 and the BCU a further £25,000. As a result, the BCU now owns the River Wye from the

upstream limit of the fishery to 300 metres downstream from the head of the island. A water hydraulics engineer was brought in to design the works which has seen boulders moved to form 10 new underwater groynes, and the island protected with rock upstream end and planted with trees to preserve wildlife. Fundraising to preserve the rapids is ongoing people can donate on the website at">