“So Mark, what has the Angling Trust done for anglers?”
We grill the CEO of the sport’s governing body as it celebrates its fifth anniversary
In January 2009, a merger of several key organisations in fishing saw the Angling Trust born as a single governing body for all.
Now it looks after several key areas of the sport, from fighting polluters, illegal fishing and predation, to encouraging new blood, securing much-needed money for angling and organising a host of competitions such as Fish O’ Mania. Angling Times journeyed to its headquarters in Leominster to discover what it has achieved in its first half-decade, what it stands for and where it is going from the horse’s mouth itself– it’s Chief Executive Mark Lloyd.
What are the Angling Trust’s five biggest victories so far?
1) Number one is definitely unifying angling. We’ve now got rid of 11 different organisations and replaced them with just one. This had been talked about in the sport since the 1950’s and was a genuinely historic achievement.
2) Winning funding. We challenged the government in 2011and won a judicial review, getting nearly £100m which went to the Environment Agency to clean up our rivers. Last year we secured £1.8m in funding from Sport England over a period of four years, plus another £1m from the EA. All these were huge.
3) Stopping hydropower at Sawley Weir. Fish Legal’s biggest recent victory was against an aggressive developer’s plans for one of our member club’s stretches of the River Trent. The scheme would kill up to 10 adult salmon and 100 coarse fish every day plus have other harmful impacts on the fishing. It was a big risk for us – if we’d lost it we would have faced a legal bill of £200,000!
4) The cormorant campaign. Fighting against the RSPB, which has 1m members, we launched the Cormorant Watch website which has gone viral and has nearly 80,000 sightings logged. We printed 110,000 postcards to send to MPS to make the case for change plus a 10,000 word dossier on the bird’s impacts. Now we have a result which makes it easier for fishery managers to apply for licences to control them and review national limits each year.
5) Set up the Volunteer Bailiff Service to tackle illegal fishing and poaching by setting. This involves training volunteers to help the Environment Agency’s Fisheries Enforcement teams gather intelligence and eventually use warrants to police our waterways. This has been piloted in the South East and the aim is to gradually roll this out to the rest of the country.
How does it approach sensitive issues such as otters or the River Severn seal, where public perceptions of angling are at stake?
I believe 10% of the public are anglers or have done it, 10% are anti-angling and the remaining 80% in the middle don’t really care either way, but it doesn’t take much to sway them. This has been the founding principle behind how we approach these issues. We look at what’s achievable- the public don’t really have an opinion on cormorants because they aren’t cute or cuddly. But ministers have made it clear they are never going to sanction the culling of otters so for us to call for something like that is never going to happen and would cause immense damage to angling. We were the only body to do anything sensible about the seal in the Severn by getting all the agencies and trusts to agree to a solution, to try and net it. It was still unpopular but did the minimum of harm to the angling image.
What are the five biggest threats to our sport that the Trust is tackling?
1) The main one is threats to our fish stocks from abstraction, habitat damage, hydropower, pollution, barriers to migration, invasive species such as signal crayfish, predation and in the sea, commercial overfishing.
2) The public perception of angling. If we present angling in the wrong light it turns people against us. So it’s about presenting angling in positive light, not only at national level, but also to affect countless decisions locally by councils for example.
3) Age. All the figures suggest that the average age of angler is increasing so we need more young people to get into the sport. We need to rise to the challenge of pulling kids away from video games and make sure angling is easily accessible for them with the programmes we are creating.
4) Access to fishing. The two key barriers stopping people fishing are time and money, especially in travel costs. So we’re providing better information about where fishing is available locally via our new website www.fishinginfo.co.uk. It’s a huge map and directory of rivers, lakes and canals, with river level data supplied by the EA and weather forecasts from the Met Office. We also fight cases of fishing being banned on piers and lakes.
5) Funding cuts to the Environment Agency. With flood defence a high priority at the moment, cuts are falling in other areas and there isn’t going to be lots of public funding available for the next decade. We may have to look at supporting more rivers trusts and other ways of protecting the environment outside government funding.
What can we expect to see from the Trust in 2014 and in the long term?
The focus this year is on delivering our new ‘Fishing For Life’ National Angling Strategy. The four parts of this are supporting the environment, getting more people going fishing more often, getting the social benefits out of it and creating more local community waters. It’s part of a big campaign about promoting fishing as a positive thing to do.
Long term I see the Trust taking over more of the work the EA does. We can deliver it more cost effectively and bring in funds from other sources. We’d like more of the money which goes into rod licences given to us to do contracts such as getting people into fishing. There is also a big case to be made for getting funding from the departments of health, education and even the home office, for the things you can do with angling to change lives!
How has it expanded since 2009?
The Trust started with about eight staff, now we have 39 plus another six in Fish Legal, our legal department which fights pollution and other damage to the water environment. Membership has doubled and we have over 1,400 member clubs and 17,500-plus individual members. In terms of funding and turnover we have secured about £1.5m more a year coming in now from external funding.
What does it do to encourage new blood?
Unfortunately all funding from Sport England is for older people of 26-plus so our work for young people is funded by the Environment Agency. We’re involved in funding National Month, Take a Friend Fishing, plus we’re in the process of developing a series of video guides to get into fishing. We merged with the Angling Development Board in 2012 and all their staff and assets are with us now. This includes 700 licensed coaches, 12 regional and local angling development officers and 30 County Angling Action Groups. In the past four years 100,000 people have been introduced to angling and 1,300 coaches have been trained. There are loads of ongoing programmes to increase participation in angling by people of all backgrounds and ages.
Suppose your club’s lake or local stretch of river or canal suddenly gets polluted. Where does the Angling Trust come in there?
This is why clubs and fisheries have to be members of Fish Legal. The Environment Agency usually assesses the damage done and takes a criminal prosecution but after that we can see if there’s a case to take against the polluter. If there is, 100% of the compensation won goes back to the angling club affected. Often the compensation we win is greater than the fine they pay so it’s a double deterrent for polluters. Fish Legal was previously the Anglers Conservation Association (ACA) and has been going for 65 years. It’s the envy of other organisations such as WWF and RSPB, because fishing is a property right and we can sue against any damage to it.
THE TRUST NEEDS YOU!
Initially a lot of anglers were cynical about angling politics but we have demonstrated that we can achieve big things with the limited resources we’ve got. A lot have been waiting to see what we do and now we’ve done it. So I say to it’s time to get off the fence and please join. People spend a fortune on fishing every year so what’s an extra £25 to protect the sport we all love? Members get a host of benefits including discounted day tickets, permits, books, tackle and even cars, plus free public liability insurance. The more members we have the more power we have – the Angling Trust needs you!
To join log on to www.anglingtrust.net or call 0844 7700616
The Angling Trust in numbers
17,500 individual members
1,420 member clubs
78,604 birds logged on Cormorantwatch.org site
50 cases fought by Fish Legal in 2013
100 volunteer bailiffs recruited