Despite angling’s deep connection to the environment, it’s a sad reality that the sport is still restricted and banned across a number of wildlife sites. Fuelled by outdated stereotypes and over-zealous trustees, fishing can risk being cut off from unique locations and natural allies.
With its recent 12-month suspension of fishing at Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT) not only upset anglers, but Angling Trust Chairman Sir Charles Walker MP, who directly raised the issue of angling restrictions in Parliament.
Events followed the decision by Nottingham AA not to renew its lease in the face of ever-tightening restrictions, and seemingly deliberate attempts to phase out fishing. So, how did we reach this point, and are wildlife trusts anti-angling?
Fishing phased out by stealth?
“Anglers could once fish anywhere on Attenborough. We’d have huge matches and angling’s biggest names visit,” says NAA secretary Dave Turner. “But over a number of years, the Trust introduced more and more red lines and restrictions.”
By 2021, by which time NWT had bought the site from Cemex, angling had been reduced from hundreds of access points to less than 30 pegs on the entire 358-acre site. To make matters worse, NWT then drastically limited fishery maintenance work and got rid of the club car park to leave anglers with long walks and a CCTV-enforced pay-meter system.
“We’ve bent over backwards to try and maintain good relations and be helpful, but all these things have gone against us,” said Dave. Given the drastic reduction in swims and facilities, the club requested a lower lease. When this was refused, the impasse led to NWT closing the fishery from May 31.
“It was a hard decision, but we’re a non-profit club that needs to get good value for our members,” said Dave.
“It’s sad that some Trust members view anglers, wrongly, as the enemy of wildlife but, as long as you get that mindset, difficulties will arise. It’s a loss to nature, too, because anglers are barometers for the state of life under the water.”
Pro wildlife or simply anti-angling?
When Angling Times contacted NWT for comment, it insisted that it had not launched a ban, but a “12 month pause” on angling so that it could “focus on creating the best habitat.”
However, head of communications Erin McDaid added that the Trust was listening to feedback and insisted “nothing has been ruled out,” and that the decision would be “reviewed in 12 months.”
On the topic of whether NWT was anti-angling, the Trust replied that it was “inaccurate and unhelpful” to suggest so, even though it also stated “our long-standing policy, agreed by members, is against permitting angling on sites where we hold the rights” and that Attenborough was an exception due to the “long tradition of angling” on site and an established relationship with Nottingham AA.
Elsewhere, however, we found further evidence of angling being phased out, amid serious tensions between Trust members and anglers, who felt they were turfed off venues they’d peacefully fished for decades.
“The wildlife trust says it has an angling policy, but it’s more like an anti-angling policy,” said former general secretary and honorary life member of the Pike Anglers Club, Alan Dudhill, who spent years challenging lost angling rights at Idle Valley, another reserve owned and run by NWT.
“At one stage it got completely out of hand,” he told us. “Trees were felled to block swims, and hostile articles appeared in the local press. I walked away when vehicles started getting damaged!”
In spite of receiving £1million of lottery funding in 2008 to improve public access and facilities at Idle Valley, angling didn’t get a look-in and remains banned to this day.
“Sadly, there are some extreme wildlife trust people out there, especially on committees,” Alan said. “For the record, we found the reserve managers and wardens highly supportive of a 50-page proposal I put forward for properly managed angling and its benefits to the reserve.
“Sadly, this was just dismissed by the NWT committee, who consider angling a ‘blood sport’ and maintain this outdated stance. It’s a shame, because the majority of people get on fine and you’d hope there’d be room for everyone. We’re always willing to talk.”
Echoing these sentiments, the Angling Trust’s Martin Salter was adamant that, “while many wildlife trusts work constructively with the angling community, sadly there are a few that show a militant anti-angling tendency. Unfortunately, NWT appears firmly in that category and its disingenuous claim that somehow it’s not anti angling, despite having a public policy of not allowing angling on its waters, beggars belief. We will be making formal representation to the NWT and taking any action necessary at the highest level.”
FIVE WILDLIFE TRUSTS THAT SUPPORT FISHING
On many reserves around the country anglers and wildlife trusts strike a very successful balance. These sites provide a haven for fishing and nature alike.
Staffordshire WLT sells permits directly for its water at Doxey Marshes, which has quality tench and pike, among other species. See the online shop for tickets and info: www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/support-us/online-shop
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northants WLT allows fishing at Felmersham Gravel Pits, which hold carp, tench and silvers. www.wildlifebcn.org/nature-reserves/felmersham-gravel-pits
Wiltshire WLT provides mixed fishing at Steeple Langford Nature Reserve, including coarse and carp fishing at Brockbank Lake, and day-ticket fly fishing on the River Wylye. www.wiltshirewildlife.org/fishing
Hampshire and Isle of Wight WLT offers quality stillwater coarse fishing and a stretch of the River Itchen at Winnall Moors. www.eadac.club
Norfolk WLT – provides fishing tickets at Martham Broad, which has all the usual species you’d expect, including roach, rudd, pike, perch and bream. www.visitthebroads.co.uk