Protecting Cornwall’s Waterways
Protecting Cornwall’s Waterways with Jules Phelps – Encounter Cornwall
Golant is an especially tranquil stretch of the River Fowey, perfect for canoeing and stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP). As such, it’s the lifeblood of Jules Phelps’ business, and she’s determined to protect it in any way possible.
“Without the river, we wouldn’t have a business,” says Jules, who co-owns watersports business Encounter Cornwall, which also trades as Paddle Cornwall SUP, with her husband Phil and friends Ben and Clair Connibeer. “We keep a watchful eye on its welfare, and everything at The Boatshed is designed with an eye to sustainability.
The quartet turned their love of SUP into a successful mobile venture two years ago and leapt at the opportunity to acquire established business Encounter Cornwall and its premises during lockdown in 2020. They now offer year-round SUP lessons, kayak trips and hire on the Fowey and its tidal creeks, for beginners and experienced paddlers of all ages.
They were lucky enough to inherit a business with a small eco-footprint, with many measures already in place to minimise waste. “The previous owner had installed a small water tank to ensure only the necessary amount was heated at any one time, and electricity is metered so we can keep track of what we are using and stay under a certain level,” says Jules. White goods have been chosen for their AAA eco-credentials, and there is no central heating here, just a log burner which makes the most of any wood washed up by the tide. When old kayaks die, they are cut down and turned into inventive planters.
The Boatshed is used to store equipment and sell a modest selection of refreshments and organic cotton merchandise (it has its own clothing brand designed by Ben called STAND.sup clothing). It's been furnished with pre-loved items where possible, and local suppliers have been chosen for the café offering. Roskilly’s Cornish ice cream, OGY1 pasties and Jac’s Happy Cakes (a local lockdown start-up).
“Everything we use is recyclable,” says Jules. “We sell water in glass bottles and coffee in bamboo cups, which are also available for sale. As our fortnightly recycling collection isn’t quite enough for a commercial outlet like ours, we make sure our waste is sorted into different coloured bins, and we deliver it to the depot ourselves.
“It’s something we do as a matter of course. We know it costs us more to run our business that way, but we see it as investing in the future, not only of the business but also of the environment we’re working in.”
The colleagues arrive at work by car-share and have arranged parking at the top of the village to avoid too much traffic in this small village. Customers are encouraged to walk down to the water’s edge and are transported back to their vehicle at the end of their session.
Wildlife is a huge part of the experience, with instructors pointing out wading birds and shoals of fish for children to tick them off on laminated quiz sheets. Parties also do their bit to clean up the river by picking litter as they go along. Finds are photographed and logged on the Planet Patrol app, which keeps national data on the most common types and brands of rubbish. In Golant, these range from tin cans and crisp packets to a random traffic cone.
“It’s down to the manufacturers – if they produce so much packaging around everything we buy, it’s inevitable some of it will end up in nature,” says Jules. “But we’ve noticed in the past year that when we buy paddleboards, they are more likely to arrive wrapped in paper than plastic, which is heartening to see.”
The Encounter Cornwall team hope their example will rub off on the many people who join them on the water. “We think about everything we do, and ask ourselves how we could do it better, more efficiently, without leaving a mark on the planet,” says Jules. “That’s what we do in our business – there are no engines, just muscle power. We’re at one with the water.”