NACA in the City
Our urban fisheries are often where conflict and controversy over and within angling are at its most intense. In many ways they are some of our most important fisheries, providing access for those on low incomes and with a lack of transport. Perhaps more importantly, they are where many youngsters get their first tastes of fishing, as is the case of the Wensum in Norwich where many locally prominent match and specialist anglers began their fishing careers.
Their importance has been underlined by the Fisheries Review Group’s recommendation that the Environment Agency direct its resources to them, an initiative set out in the EA’s Coarse Fisheries Strategy. This stretch of the Wensum, commonly used for free in its upper reaches and tidal in its lower reaches, provides a wide range of fishing experiences, from barbel, chub, pike, tench and carp to specimen sizes and due to seasonal migrations of fish stocks, excellent winter roach and match fishing. The loss of this fishery to angling would then be a serious blow. That however, was what the NACA had to turn a large amount of our resources to preventing from the twin threats of bankside redevelopment and the concerted efforts of anti-anglers.
While there are common themes to both of these threads, such as how to organise representation for anglers on “public fisheries”, antagonistic elements within the angling community, a failing in the authorities to recognise the value of angling and us to reinforce it and apathy in angling, here I have dealt with them separately. Also, these campaigns were drawn out over several years, involving numerous meetings, letters, telephone calls and communication in the press, but I have tried to summarise the actions rather than lay them out in chronological order.
Countering the Anti's
The NACA first became involved when it was announced in the local press that the fate of angling was to be decided by the local Council’s Environment Committee following the outcome of the recommendations of a working party they had set up due to pressure from anti-anglers in the guise of the Women’s Initiative for Tighter Angling Control (linked obviously to groups such as Pisces and Campaign for Abolition Angling) and the local RSPCA to ban angling on virtually all of the Wensum due to damage to wildlife and the appalling state of the riverbanks. We set about gaining access to the working party and our approach to organising a response, through several meetings was as follows.
Obtaining information on the arguments that anti’s would be expected to use.
Their own websites and pamphlets gave us this. As expected horror stories of agonising deaths, exaggerated figures on swan and other wildlife casualties, contrived examples of anglers litter such as whole spools balled up and mixed with oversize hooks and tales of mountains of litter on the riverbanks all attributable to angers were presented.
Obtaining information to counter these arguments.
The Angling Activists Handbook, articles on interpreting the Medway Report into fish and the sensation of pain and other articles on moral and ethical objections to angling, obtained from Keith Barker of the National Association of Specialist Anglers/Specialist Anglers Conservation Group (soon to be the Specialist Anglers Alliance), contributed significantly to a case on this subject.
We gathered information on the true nature of the scale of angling related wildlife accidents and the casualty rates, and information to put the impact of angling into perspective compared to the impact of for example overhead power lines, road traffic, pollution, general litter, domestic cats and the losses due to general habitat degradation and destruction. Information was gleaned from the rescue groups themselves, various reports such as the EA R&D report on swans and other publications from wildlife groups.
The legal position of anglers as regards ownership of fishing rights and access were investigated. This subject in fact led to one of the more entertaining and satisfying moments in the very serious first meeting. Having constantly alluded to legislation that gave anglers a right to fish on tidal waters, to the great frustration of the anti’s, they were wound up to the point where they stood up and demanded to know “just what is this ‘Mickey Mouse’ legislation as I’m sure that we can get it overturned”. On being informed that they were talking about cancelling the Magna Carta they were left floundering open mouthed, others laughed, I looked rather smug and the meeting was recessed while the Council’s legal department were consulted, to confirm the right to fish.
We organised several ‘spring cleans’ of the banks, with the first being the most significant. There we arranged for the press, councillors and the anti’s themselves to be present while NACA and other volunteers collected and categorised all rubbish. We revealed that anglers litter, while still unacceptable, was a tiny fraction, a few carrier bags compared to a mountain from sources such as fly-tipping of domestic rubbish, beer cans and syringes from outdoor drink and drug users, discarded food wrappings, dumped furniture, dog mess and a few classics including a dead dog and a stainless kitchen sink. We therefore identified a number of failings in the authorities to control the major contributors to the dereliction of the riverbanks and put the impact of anglers in perspective. Theses actions have prompted a number of initiatives from other groups such as the Tidy Britain Group, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Norwich City Council and Wensum Valley Project to tackle the problem.
We promoted the value of angling to the City Council officers and councillors, identifying the social and economic value, its importance to certain sections of not just the angling but the wider community, demonstrating that it contributed to their policies on social inclusion and provision of leisure facilities. We made them aware of the possibilities of partnership to enhance the facilities, the importance of fisheries to the wider aquatic environment and the long role of anglers as stakeholders in water courses acting to protect and enhance them. Key quotes from prominent individuals supporting this helped here.
When others jumped on the bandwagon and used the local press to attack angling on ethical and wildlife impact grounds we ensured their misrepresentations of us received a response.
We discussed alternatives to bans such as more formalised angling management, and tried to get all interested parties around a table to formulate a plan to create a city of Norwich angling club.
The working party was put on hold, and finally disbanded after the last attempt of the anti’s to use this route to seek a ban on angling. We can thus say that we have countered this threat to angling in Norwich. We cannot be complacent though. It is a threat that will rise again, and we did not have, as threatened by the anti’s, direct action against anglers on the bank to contend with. Our experience does raise a number of points that are relevant to all.
· With no identifiable body that they were members of to represent users, or a local consultative to act on behalf of the whole angling community, the legitimate use of local decision making forums to seek a ban on angling nearly succeeded. Anglers must be aware of how decisions that affect them are made, by whom, and ensure that anglers are represented on them. Local anglers consultatives may be the best way forward to coordinate representation for anglers and access the information that could be available from the National Angling Alliance via the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives.
Information on building arguments to counter the anti’s is available. Someone in local angling representation and politics needs to make sure it is available to them and seek out the material that is available through bodies such as the National Angling Alliance. Ideally the information needs condensing into a complete handbook containing information to counter all that the anti’s can throw at us and facts and figures to back them up.
Many local authorities are not aware of the importance of angling and fisheries and the possibilities that are offered, failing to incorporate their needs into local plans and consult anglers where appropriate. I understand that NAFAC are working on a publication to redress this problem.
Our public and ‘free’ fisheries are the most vulnerable to threats such as these, and abuse by anglers themselves. Can we really run the risk that they are not ascribed some value and run by anglers for anglers?
City Centre Redevelopment
Again we became aware of this issue via the local press, which featured an article on the proposed redevelopment of an area in Norwich known as Riverside. This is part of the tidal stretch of the Wensum in Norwich, and it was proposed to close off the area while new leisure, commercial and residential properties were built. The alarm bells rang, and we set about investigating and ameliorating the impact on angling.
First job was identifying the key individuals and organisations involved, in this case the Council Planning Department’s coordinator for this large project, the project manager and site manager for the company developing the site, the Leisure Services officer of the council who was responsible for the match bookings and key councillors in committees relevant to the site and leisure. Having identified them I set about arranging meetings with and/or writing letters to them all to gather information about the final form of the development, stress the importance of the venue for match and casual angling, seeking assurance that the needs of anglers would be accommodated and the timing of completion of the works. I also requested support from the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority, this river being within their executive area.
This action brought in plans of the site, landscape plans showing the nature of bankside to be built, its height above water level, and where moorings were to be placed, an assurance that the key feature was a wide public walkway at waters edge, accessible for angling and approximate timing of completion of various stages of the works. Doubts still remained over the commitment to a return to match bookings and long-term conflict with other uses such as the cafes, bars, retail outlets and moorings. The local angling columns were full of panic about loss of this facility and we used them to inform, reassure of our involvement and persuade others of the need to apply pressure as well.
So we lost access, supposedly temporarily while construction went ahead. The project was dogged by numerous delays, and nearly two years after supposed completion we only now close to regaining our fishing. We did continue to monitor the works, and demand answers as to why the delays, which were largely due to mistakes in satisfying health and safety features, gaining planning permission for new bridges and resubmission of parts of the plan following rejection.
Another serious threat to angling reared its head following the unfortunate drowning of two heavily intoxicated under age drinkers using the clubs that were part of the development. The local press and other organisations orchestrated a campaign to have all of the rivers edge railed off to prevent such incidents. We of course applied pressure to avoid this, but the key response was a long-term user of the fishery and prominent well-respected local match angler organising responses in the press and a petition calling for any railings to be arranged so that angling could continue. Together we lobbied councillors and officers of the Council and acted via their planning committee to present the petition and argue a case for the value of angling to the area, the City as a whole and the need to incorporate the needs of anglers into the areas management. This action appears to be successful, with the proposed railings to be arranged to allow sufficient bankside width for angling while satisfying health and safety considerations. We have also, due to our efforts, received an assurance that plans to extend the riverside walk in Norwich by 800 metres, with use for permanent match peggings guranteed.
So what lessons for angling in general.
Well, we were slow off the mark, reacting rather than being aware of the plans as they were formed. So anglers, their clubs and consultative organisations must be aware of the processes of the Town and Country planning system and monitor it for threats, or opportunities for angling and fisheries through specific applications, local and county structure plans.
Councils are often unaware of the role and importance of angling and fisheries to their duties and also of the opportunities for partnership projects to develop these facilities. The EA is, after all, claiming that directing resources to urban fisheries is a key part of their Coarse Fisheries Strategy, and this is also an important recommendation of the Salmon and freshwater Fisheries Review Group.
Effective action depended on awareness of the organisations and individuals responsible, targeting action on them and using the media, god arguments, their own policies and weight of opinion to influence them.
What then for the future for the NACA on this issue. Well having established a stake for angling it is our intention to facilitate the setting up of an angling club to manage first these, then other fisheries in the Norwich City administrative area. We will then hopefully seek partnerships and funding to improve the facilities, educate the users in good angling practice and conduct, ensure fisheries and ensure angling and fisheries interests are incorporated into other council policies.