IT’S a tipsy, topsy world that we’re living in.
As I wrote last week’s column we hadn’t gone into lockdown. By the time the editor read it we had.
The following day the Angling Trust posted that angling was not allowed. Within a day they were able to post that non-competitive angling was being allowed again.
These events were vitally significant.
First, that the Government, having allowed angling in the November lockdown had, as might be expected and as they had done before, omitted us in their latest deliberations.
Second, and not for the first time since coronavirus appeared on the scene, the changes that allowed us to go fishing had only been made by the efforts of the Angling Trust engaging with the powers that be.
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This latter effort has, and I’m pleased to admit it, caused me to eat humble pie, and to re-join the Trust — an organisation I helped to establish and become a director of more than ten years ago before leaving again after I couldn’t agree with some of the views and actions of the newly-formed organisation.
Those who know me may well remember the background and how my experiences helped form my initial and subsequent actions. I don’t hesitate to say that I have criticised the Trust at length over the years — and with valid reasons I believe — but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Perhaps strangely, one might think, that someone like me, a life time angler, was never interested in angling politics. Now there’s nothing unusual there. Most anglers are simply not interested in anything other than fishing, and historically those that joined the old NFA, the National Federation of Anglers, simply did so to fish the Nationals, not through any sense of purpose. I wasn’t even one of those.
My engagement with angling’s high and mighty, as I saw them, came when cormorants arrived in South Yorkshire some 20 years ago. They almost totally decimated my club’s fishery, (and I ought to add are continuing to do just that to other local waters today).
As our catches fell, our committee looked in desperation at what could be done because no-one in angling’s hierarchy was successfully doing anything other than talking.
Of course, we all knew the answer, but that wasn’t legal. We applied for a licence in order to ‘shoot to scare’ but were denied. The following year we tried again, and failed, even though we had put in place all suggestions made by what was then MAFF, the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was like trying to headbutt an immovable object.
We had found the hard way just how impossible it was for a small angling club like ours to take on authority.
We sought help from the leading angling bodies who, it seemed, were as ever doing a great deal of talking but taking very little useful action, or offering helpful advice. This inactivity was something which helped cement my own low opinions of them.
We finally decided, perhaps more to alleviate our frustration, to begin a petition asking the government to allow fisheries under serious threat from cormorant predation to be allowed to control them.
Many laughed, “surely it must be a joke,” was the view. It began in a small way and was boosted when Sheffield’s Angling Star offered to produce specially designed sheets for anglers to sign. We were off and my good friend, Dennis Goodwin, and I travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting angling fairs and shows collecting signatures. We even had sheets being circulated at the most exclusive angling club in the world, the Fly Fisher’s Club.
As the number of signatories rose to 36,000, we sought to establish just how one takes a petition to parliament. By then, however others had begun to notice and I was asked to attend a meeting of the sport’s leading bodies in London.
What I experienced there further enhanced my very poor opinion of angling governance. I spent a morning listening to the NFA, NAFAC and the Salmon and Trout Association representatives, among others, all prevaricating as to the best way to proceed and how best not to upset relationships already established with others.
Trying to actually resolve the problem seemed low on the agenda. Fortunately, Reading’s MP, and well-known angler, Martin Salter agreed to help and the presentation, with the reps of all the angling bodies in close attendance, was made to Allun Michael MP in Portcullis House.
But the lobbying didn’t end there and some two years later we all attended a further meeting with the Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw. The effect was dramatic and it wasn’t long before the rules had been relaxed, not to the extent that I would have liked, but it was a major step forward and from then on it became much easier to obtain a licence and to control cormorant predation of fisheries.
Amidst all this, but only after some banging of heads, I established a close working relationship with Terry Mansbridge, NAFAC’s chairman, who persuaded me to continue the fight by joining his governing committee.
The work continued — on Radio 4’s Today programme, on Country File, and at numerous seminars and talks. Sadly, Terry Passed away and I took over the mantle, an action which in the late 1990s involved me in something I also by then felt strongly about, the formation of a single governing body to represent angling as a whole. The seed was sown. What followed were endless meetings and many discussions before the Trust was born in 2009.
But soon my enthusiasm was beginning to wane. The biggest and no doubt richest potential partner, the Salmon and Trout Association, left the party in order to take up charitable status, arguments began about the NFA’s finances, and one of my main reasons for forming the organisation — that it’s prime objective should be to seek to engage every angler in membership— was pooh-poohed.
As if to add salt to the wound, individual subscriptions were increased 25 per cent. And there were more personal reasons too. Despite the CEO being given an extremely generous salary, travelling expenses were no longer paid — something that resulted in me being no longer in a position to attend meetings — and perhaps something that always upsets a blunt Yorkshireman, the organisation had a massively disproportionate southern bias. The result was that I resigned my post and watched from the sidelines as the Trust’s actions and policies seemingly continued to diverge further and further from my own ideas.
I said at the beginning that I was eating humble pie. It’s not something that I do regularly and certainly never envisaged it happening with respect to the Angling Trust, but, just as I did back in 2009 when the Trust was formed, I still believe that angling needs just one good strong governing body, an organisation that actually fights for anglers and doesn’t just talk the talk and so I have rejoined the Trust.
So why the change? It seems to me that since January 2000 when the new CEO Jamie Cook joined the Trust, it has become more effective.
Without the actions of the Trust, we simply would not be fishing today or all the other days during the last year when other apparently outdoor activities — and golf would seem a good example — have not been able to operate.
Without the Trust putting forward arguments for angling to continue, we would have all been sitting at home rather than on the bank.
I’ve seen first-hand how difficult it is to simply engage with the powers that be, let alone persuade them that your point of view is the best and yet the Trust have done it not once but three times.
On that basis I’d ask that each and every one of you give your support to the Trust by becoming a member, as I have done.
Details can be found at www.anglingtrust.net/membership/