Steve Partner: Angling doesn't need this kind of arrogance

If you’d never heard of the Wildlife and Countryside Link then you were in good company. I hadn’t either. Not until last week. Not until it decided to stick its unwanted beak into angling with two of the most ill-thought-out and potentially ruinous proposals I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.

Now I can’t get the bloody Wildlife and Countryside Link out of my head.

Angry? ‘Incandescent’ would be a better description.

Let’s start with the basics. This is a quango that has been in operation for 30 years and acts, in an advisory capacity, to Government. It comprises 33 different bodies, including the likes of the RSPB.

The purpose, according to its website, is to  ‘bring together voluntary organisations in the UK to protect and enhance wildlife, landscape and the marine environment, and to further the quiet enjoyment and appreciation of the countryside.’ But what it doesn’t say, unsurprisingly, is that it also makes horrendously ill-informed decisions about sports it knows absolutely nothing about.

Take last week as an example.

Asked by Government to look at recreational angling and suggest areas where budgets can be cut and additional income raised, it came back with these two gems. One: strip the Environment Agency of its £9.4m in grant-in-aid and let me and you (the rod licence payers) foot the bill for the entire fisheries work. And two: make sea anglers dig deep and pay for an annual permit too.

Genius, eh?

But, you might ask, surely such radical proposals must have been the result of hours of research and debate? Wrong. Not only do none of the bodies that make up the Wildlife and Countryside Link have any relation to angling, they did not consult a single fisherman in this process.

The Angling Trust ¬ our governing body, remember ¬ didn’t get so much as a phone call. Such arrogance and ignorance is almost beyond belief.

It won’t, of course, take me to spell out just why the findings are complete tosh. The Environment Agency is already stretched to breaking point, with manpower so thin on the ground it can barely fulfil its current role, that taking away what little it gets from Government would be catastrophic.

To ask anglers to pick up a near £10m shortfall ¬ a sum that would require an extra £6.50 on the current licence ¬ is not only unfair, it’s unacceptable.

And as for sea anglers contributing via a similar licensing system, I don’t buy that, either.

It isn’t just asking this group of people to pay when the seas are currently being destroyed by commercial fisherman that I disagree  with, it’s the sheer enormity of policing it too. Just who is going to bailiff the 7,700-odd miles of our coastline? It almost goes without saying that among the Wildlife and Countryside Link ‘proposals’ this fundamental question remains unanswered.

If both findings are laughably impractical, the fact that they were reached without a single shred of input from angling isn’t the remotest bit funny.

To think bodies like this are given the slightest bit of credibility isn’t just worrying, it’s dangerous too.

I can only hope the powers that be, led by pro-angling Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, treat this kind of drivel with the disdain it deserves.

Anything else is a disservice to all those anglers who voted for this Conservative Government under the belief it not only stood for the rights of fishermen, but for commonsense too.