Our current analysis suggests that we can’t write plain English

20 Feb

This is the clearest and most incisive critique of what is wrong with the way our rivers are ‘managed’ I have seen. We need a revolution in water management in this country or we will all just have to sit and watch while our fisheries decline slowly and steadily. The Angling Trust will be working closely with WWF, RSPB and the Rivers Trust to try and bring about radical change.
Thank you Charles for this excellent piece.

One of the main aims of the recent WWF chalk-streams conference (my presentation is published in a previous blog entry) was to encourage people to comment on the Environment Agency’s latest River Basin Management Plans.

If you love rivers, this is important (if dry) stuff. These plans will define what the government will do over the next few years to improve our rivers. The public needs to say what it thinks in order to hold the government and its agencies to task.

In the afternoon we broke up into sub-groups and tried to make sense of the catchment summaries. I was given the Environment Agency’s summary for north west Norfolk, where I live. I couldn’t really make head or tail of it to be honest. But it was hard to concentrate, we were trying to read and discuss at the same time. Sure, there was the standard windy drift of vague statements…

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Proof that people power really can work!

3 Feb

My blog on 4 December celebrated the fact that the tide might have turned in favour of recreational sea angling, following an inspiring debate in Westminster Hall about the need for urgent protection for European and UK bass fisheries, which are in danger of collapsing.  Some in the angling press rightly pointed out that this celebration might have been premature when George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister, returned from his subsequent meeting in Brussels later in the month without any agreements to protect bass stocks.  The negotiations had run into the sand.

However, the Angling Trust and B.A.S.S. piled on the pressure on government and many of our members responded to our call to write to their MPs to let them know that people really care about this issue.  Defra responded by taking proposals to the European Commission for emergency measures and these were supplemented by additional Dutch proposals.  We then asked our members to write to the European Fisheries Commissioner overseeing the process of considering these proposals and we know that hundreds of anglers did this.  Our partner organisations in the European Anglers’ Alliance did the same and we helped them apply pressure to the Eurocrats tucked away in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Brussels.

The result?  The European Commission this week announced that it would be banning all pelagic trawling for bass until the end of the spawning season at the end of April this year.  This is something that we and our predecessor organisations have campaigned to achieve for the last decade.  It just seems bonkers to allow commercial nets to scoop up vast quantities of fish just when they are about to spawn and create more bass, and this year at least, the madness will stop!

The fact that the EU has at last taken action (even if it is only a short term emergency measure for the time being) is a result of two key factors in my view.  The first is that the scientific advice was incontrovertible; the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) called for an 80% cut in catches.  Of course, the scientists had called for drastic action on several occasions before, and they had been ignored by the politicians who preferred not to rock the commercial fishing boat and to let the unsustainable slaughter of juvenile and spawning bass continue.  This time, the evidence really was stark though: stop fishing or face an immediate collapse in stocks.

As a united force for all anglers, we can make a bigger difference

As a united force for all anglers, we can make a bigger difference

The second factor was that anglers in the UK and throughout Europe stood up to be counted.  We are a huge constituency, which is potentially very powerful.  In the past, we have been far too fragmented and amateur, which has stopped us punching anything like near our weight.  This time was different; we were able to get messages out to a much larger network of anglers and to give them the relevant information they needed to contact the politicians.  We were able to provide professional briefings to politicians and civil servants.  We had the relationships with Ministers and Defra employees so that we could pick up the phone and talk to them.  This is the value of having a unified representative body for all anglers, which has forged links into a European network of similar bodies.  Any organisation can write a few letters, or put out some press releases, but to take on an issue like this and actually get something done it is essential to have a professional, integrated campaign.

Richard Benyon Quote

And it worked – despite deadlock at the Fisheries Council meeting in December, our politicians knew that they had to do something and they proposed emergency measures which became a ban on pelagic trawling for bass until April to protect spawning fish.  There’s now a lot of work to be done to put in place longer term solutions, which will doubtless include some restrictions on recreational sea anglers about the number and size of fish they can take home, but we’ve won a really important victory for sea angling and for fish stocks.  We want to build on this success and take on more battles to start the process of re-building our sea fishing which used to be some of the best in the world.

If we are to do this, we need more support.  There are a few people out there on the forums who will try and persuade you that the Angling Trust is involved in dark conspiracies to destroy angling, or that we have some hidden agenda.  We aren’t and we haven’t.  We employ professional staff, and all of them put in hundreds of voluntary hours above and beyond what they are contracted to do.  But we don’t do our jobs for the money; we are all deeply committed to protecting and improving fish stocks and fishing for this generation and the generations to come.  Angling has waited decades for an organisation to stand up for anglers in the public arena.  It now has one, which is making a real difference, and it’s high time that more than 0.1% of all anglers coughed up just £25 a year to support the work that the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do for the benefit of us all.

Join here: www.anglingtrust.net/join

A new dawn for online angling politics?

6 Jan
Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark LLoyd

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd

In the autumn, I wrote an editorial in our members’ magazine The Angler entitled “Let’s agree to disagree”. I had got frustrated with online angling forums which seemed to me to be damaging the reputation of angling in the public eye and stifling real debate because of the behaviour of a small, dominant minority who are intent on bickering with each other publicly. I was therefore delighted to read that World Sea Fishing is going to change the format of its political forums, which have all too often descended into a slanging match. You can read the announcement here http://www.worldseafishing.com/forums/threads/new-rsa-politics-forum.3123999/

Our sport faces some very serious threats, including crashing fish stocks, local angling bans, denial of access and a lack of recruitment of young people. How we respond to these threats requires serious discussion that is properly moderated. As the representative and national governing body for all forms of angling in England, working closely with our equivalent bodies in Scotland and Wales, the Angling Trust is fighting for the interests of anglers every day.

When we meet Ministers and officials, we need to know what anglers really think. It is really useful to us to hear what sensible and serious people think. Our members frequently write to us with their views about what we should be doing for them, and we have a number of freshwater and sea angling regions around the country which hold meetings for our members to discuss issues of local importance to them. Over the past year, we have been campaigning hard and taking legal action on a whole host of issues which reflect what our members have told us they want us to do: bass stocks, access to angling, dredging, fracking, salmon stocks, cormorant predation, poaching, unlawful canoeing and many others. We will continue to do what we can to tackle the most important issues affecting fish and fishing.

When we meet with Ministers we need to know what you think

When we meet with Ministers we need to know what you think

Well-managed online discussions could be another tool to help us do our job even more effectively. Unfortunately there is a limit to the time we can spend participating in forums – we have very limited staff resources – but if they were run well and people stick to the rules, then they could make a positive contribution to discussion and highlight things that we need to take on.

Angling politics forums in the UK often make grim reading. Someone starts a thread and for the first few pages there is a perfectly reasonable discussion until two people disagree with each other so fundamentally that they launch into a tirade of personal insults and abuse. These spats can become long-running battles which spill into every other thread with which either of the people gets involved.

The end results are not only boring for the rest of us, but they destroy the foundation of reasoned debate and give an appalling impression to people who think that these views are representative of our community. These comments must surely make people who are getting into angling for the first time, and perhaps turning to forums for some helpful advice, think twice about taking up the sport.

I think it’s time to clean up our act, and I hope that this new forum will enable people who really care about the future of recreational sea angling to share their views without fear of harassment and participate in constructive and useful discussions about the future.

Now that World Sea Fishing Forums have changed their approach, perhaps others might follow suit? We’ll certainly be watching to see how it works in practice. Here’s hoping for a more harmonious and constructive debate in 2015!

With all best wishes for 2015 from everyone at the Angling Trust and Fish Legal.

Mark Lloyd

Chief Executive

Angling Trust & Fish Legal

Why the Angling Trust insists coaches should be licensed

31 Mar

This week I’m going to write about the Angling Trust Qualifications and Licensing system. The Angler’s Mail recently published an article by Thomas Petch entitled “Paedophile WAS qualified coach”. It was referring to Paul Stead, an angling coach who was recently convicted of abusing children. He was indeed a qualified coach, but he was not licensed. In the press release we issued after this terrible incident came to light, I called for all coaches working with young and vulnerable people to be licensed, which provides much more reassurance than a mere qualification. The article seemed to be suggesting that we had got our facts wrong.

A qualified coach has undertaken the minimum level of learning endorsed by the Angling Trust to understand the principles of coaching at each level. It does not in any way verify the individual or their background; anyone can go on a coaching course. Paul Stead held a coaching qualification from a course he went on many years ago, but he has never been licensed by the Angling Development Board or the Angling Trust.

The Coach Licence exists to help the Angling Trust understand more about a coach and to decide whether a coach should be allowed to work with children and young people. It requires an individual to provide more detail of their background and training, including:

  • Evidence of a recognised Angling Coaching Qualification
  • up to date Safeguarding and Protecting Children training
  • up to date First Aid training
  • an approved DBS (previously known as CRB) check. This is risk assessed by the Angling Trust where required.

A coach providing this information and signing up to become a ‘Licensed Angling Trust Coach’ has therefore been more closely checked out, and we provide them with a comprehensive insurance policy to cover everything they do as a coach. This offers parents and reputable organisations more reassurance that the young or vulnerable people involved in a project will be coached by people who have been checked out.

Paul Stead has never been licensed and never provided any of the above information to the Angling Trust. This is not to say we could necessarily have stopped him doing what he did, but the licensing process might have highlighted any information recorded against him on his DBS check and might have resulted in a failed licence application. We would also have investigated any complaints made about him to us, which might have led to his licence being suspended or a Police investigation.

It is, and has always been, the position of the Angling Trust that only Angling Trust Licensed coaches should be used when working with young people or vulnerable adults. A coaching qualification shows that people have met a coaching standard; whereas the Angling Trust licence shows that they have been fully checked out by trained assessors.

If you are involved in a club, or any organisation involving children being coached by adults, please ask the coaches involved if they are licensed. If they are not, please put them in touch with the Angling Trust who will be able to advise them how to go about getting a licence to coach.

A loud voice for angling in the corridors of power

24 Mar

This week I was asked how much influence the Angling Trust has in government, and I thought that might make a good subject for my blog.

The Angling Trust was formed five years ago following a merger of six national governing bodies for different disciplines of the sport and other organisations. We have now combined eleven organisations to form a single body to represent all coarse, game and sea anglers. We believe that by joining forces, anglers can have a louder voice to campaign on the many issues that affect our sport. Most politicians don’t know the difference between a spod and a spey cast, but they know that there are more than three million anglers in the country, who can vote them out of a job. By pooling our resources, we can have a much bigger impact and be much more cost effective than eleven separate organisations.

As a result of this merger, angling has never had such a loud voice in government. Our campaigns chief Martin Salter, when he was an MP, set up the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group and we work very closely with the angling MPs on this group to brief them on key issues and to ask them to raise questions in the House of Commons. We have regular meetings with government officials, Ministers and Secretaries of State and occasionally we even make it into Number 10 to meet the Prime Minister. We attend all three of the political party conferences where we host a reception for MPs, party activists and local councillors to make the case for angling to be protected, respected and improved. This initiative alone costs us nearly £10,000 a year – or 400 membership subscriptions.

Richard Benyon MP (until recently the Environment Minister) has accepted our invitation to become an Angling Trust Ambassador and said on his appointment: “I have seen at first hand how effectively the Angling Trust lobbies on behalf of angling and the environment. It is a respected player in the corridors of power because its arguments are evidence-based and coherent. There has never been a more important time for a strong voice for anglers and the rivers, lakes and seas where they fish. It is an honour to be an Ambassador for the Trust.”

However, there is a cautionary notes to add, before you start thinking that the Angling Trust will be able to work political miracles with all this influence. Our political system is incredibly resistant to change; legislation can take many years to jump through all the parliamentary hoops before it becomes law and the government machine only responds rapidly when it is under massive pressure. We have had considerable success over the past 5 years getting small changes to policy and practice which have all been beneficial to angling and fish stocks. If we are to win much bigger battles though, we will need a lot more firepower in the form of cash and members.

This is where you come in. We currently have less than 1% of all anglers in membership. Please join us today, to help us shout even louder in the corridors of power.

Are we fit to frack?

21 Mar

Last week, we launched a report challenging the government to regulate fracking properly, or risk harming threatened species and polluting our waterways. We teamed up with the National Trust, RSPB, the Salmon & Trout Association, the Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to compile the report, which was peer reviewed by independent experts. We secured support from a cross party group of MPs including Zac Goldsmith, Alan Whitehead and Tessa Munt, who joined us for a photocall outside the house of commons with our Campaigns Chief Martin Salter. I went to Wiltshire to film for the BBC, and did my interview waist deep in a very cold chalk stream!

The report contains ten recommendations for making fracking safer as the Government continues its push to get companies to apply for licences to explore and drill for shale gas. We are calling for all protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks to be frack-free zones, for full environmental assessments to be carried out for each drilling proposal, and for the shale gas industry to pay the costs of its regulation and any pollution clean-ups.

The report highlights a lack of regulation around shale gas exploitation which could cause serious impacts for a range of threatened species including salmon, trout and many other freshwater fish species. It also raises serious concerns about the impact of drilling and water contamination on some of our most precious natural habitats such as chalk streams. 85% of the world’s chalk streams are found in England, and a large proportion of fracking sites are in chalk catchments.

A poor fracking operation has the potential to pollute groundwater supplies and to cause damage to fragile ecosystems in our chalk streams and other rivers. That is why we need the strongest possible regulatory framework, funded from the profits of the industry rather than from taxpayers’ pockets.

Fewer than a quarter of our rivers are currently in good ecological condition and the rest suffer from widespread pollution and over-abstraction. The Environment Agency is struggling to tackle these existing problems, and faces the prospect of losing 1,500 staff. Our wildlife and fisheries need another major risk to water quality and an additional demand for water like they need a hole in the head.

We got some really good national press coverage for the report, which was on the BBC, ITV, and Sky as well as in the Sunday Times (with support from Vinnie Jones, a keen angler), the front page of the Telegraph and the Times.

The Angling Trust fights for fish and fishing every day of every week, but we can only do it with the support of anglers. Our membership is steadily growing. Please help us do more by joining right now (it only takes a couple of minutes) at www.anglingtrust.net/join

Dredging and floods.

13 Mar

This week I’m handing my blog over to Martin Salter who this week we sent back to parliament to brief MPs about why dredging the hell out of our rivers is rarely a good idea! Read on for his rant on the subject…

As Britain recovers from the wettest January since 1766, with parts of the country experiencing more than 200% of average rainfall for six weeks in a row, communities are coming to terms with the aftermath of the floods that devastated large tracts of Southern England. Inevitably there has been a big debate as to why the damage was so severe this time and, incredibly, whether or not someone or something was to blame other than the weather. Listening to some of these characters you would think that there was absolutely no link between what falls out of the sky and why our rivers might overtop onto their floodplains – like they are supposed to do and like they have always done.

I know I wasn’t the only angler this winter raging at some of the stupid comments made by politicians and the media about the ‘magic dredging cure-all’ that could prevent flooding and restore order to our troubled land. Of course someone had to be blamed so they picked on the Government’s Environment Agency for not dredging enough rivers, never mind that all the evidence showed that in many cases dredging either has no impact on reducing flood risk or can make matters worse by moving water more quickly down the catchment and causing problems for areas downstream.

As anglers we know that rivers are supposed to flood their floodplains – the clue is in the name. If politicians want something other than the weather to blame for the floods perhaps they should look at their own policies which have allowed ever more building on the floodplains and taxpayer subsidies for intensive farming practices that channel more and more water down the catchment at a faster rate?


The good news is there are some encouraging signs that sanity is beginning to reassert itself. A lot of hard work by the Angling Trust, working in partnership with other environmental groups and supportive MPs, has seen a growing realisation that Britain can’t dredge its way out of trouble but that we can do something about the way we manage the land. The self scouring power of our rivers was illustrated by a dramatic aerial photograph of the UK, taken on February 16, which shows a massive plume of sediment pumping out into the Irish Sea beyond the Welsh coastline. More than anything else, this loss of millions of tonnes of valuable topsoil demonstrated the need to adopt far more sustainable farming practices including ‘no plough zones’ and the planting of upland trees and buffer strips to stabilise the land and encourage greater water penetration, rather than the flash flooding that has become the norm in many river valleys.

Martin Salter