Bailiffing our Fisheries - The Battle Ahead
Rod Sturdy is back on FM with a look at the problems of policing our inland waters – and, potentially, the first step in finding an effective, lasting solution.
For far too long our inland waters have remained ineffectively policed and the Environment Agency is finding it more and more difficult, with their tightly stretched finances, to maintain a corps of bailiffs capable of dealing with the now commonplace problems of illegal fishing, fish theft and related aggressive behaviour on our inland waters; indeed most of us would be hard put to recall exactly when we were last checked by a bailiff. It is no exaggeration to say that anglers’ confidence in the security of their waters and the future of their sport has reached an all-time low. Although there has been a genuine desire throughout the angling community to support fishery enforcement, anglers have felt powerless in the face of mounting threats to the waters they fish.
But now enter one Dilip Sarkar, MBE. Dilip is a retired police officer and a noted historian as well as a notable pike specimen angler and, to use his own words, ‘a driven man’. He has been appointed by the Angling Trust to train and lead a force of volunteer bailiffs in a pilot scheme covering the south eastern part of England: London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. The general principle is, initially, to set up a system akin to the Special Constabulary and Neighbourhood Watch but in an angling context, with intelligence and information being fed into the system by the individual volunteers. The whole exercise, known as the Volunteer Bailiff Scheme (VBS) is being funded by the Environment Agency.
Dilip has told me that the project is a three-year one. Although he has wisely not yet decided on a fixed format for its development he envisages that training of volunteers, for which he is personally responsible, will in the second year be fuller and include such topics as conflict resolution. In the third year certain volunteers will be selected for full training to enable them to cope with what Dilip calls ‘high-impact situations’. This will produce a core of volunteers akin to special constables in the police force. In due course the scheme will be rolled out nationally.
It so happens that Dilip’s specialism as a historian is the Battle of Britain and the Supermarine Spitfire. The parallels between that perilous phase in our history and the situation we anglers face now will, I hope, not be lost on FishingMagic readers. Not least, the fact that it was a battle in which ‘the few’ prevailed over superior enemy numbers.
In the police force Dilip worked as a policeman on the beat, as a detective and also gained experience of community policing, all strings to his bow for the battle ahead. He also has extensive experience of working with law enforcement volunteers. He will begin working with 20 or more volunteers who have been carefully chosen for their good character and local knowledge. Dilip comments that the exercise is ‘all about knowledge’. As ever, it is a question of harnessing these human resources – all anglers themselves incidentally – to be the eyes and ears of their patch and to share information effectively.
Dilip is optimistic about the impact of this volunteer bailiff force: it will work if handled correctly. He will be working in partnership with Adrian Saunders, the EA Fisheries Enforcement Campaigns Manager, and Adrian Brightley, the EA Project Manager. Adrian Brightley and Dilip will be working together particularly closely, in fact, not least regarding the training package he will be delivering to volunteers. His police background will assist with communication and understanding between the EA, ATr and police and, hopefully, give a more joined-up approach to combating poaching.
Once again, we have here an example of how anglers and angling are a positive force in the protection of the environment. Dilip assures me that wildlife crime, which of course includes fish theft and the like, is becoming a really important issue. We can as anglers be proud of the fact that those who have volunteered for this scheme are doing their bit on this important front and we can be grateful that the police are now taking a real interest in the issue, as those who are involved in it frequently have a hand in other criminal activities as well.
Dilip’s angling credentials are considerable: he has fished for big fish of many species over the years, and now specialises in pike and zander. He has to his credit a fair number of 25 lb plus pike and has an ambition to catch a 30-pounder. He was until recently the President of the Pike Anglers’ Club of Great Britain and has been editor of its specialist publication ‘Pikelines’. He remains a regular contributor to the angling press. His son James is going into fishery management, and is ‘obsessed with fishing’, his wife, Karen, is also a passionate angler, Angling Trust volunteer and a professional artist specialising in angling and wildlife art.
The VBS currently comprises twenty-eight Volunteer Bailiffs (VBs); a further sixteen will be inducted on 20 April. The VBS works closely with the ATr’s ‘Building Bridges’ project and is inclusive: the VBS currently includes one female volunteer bailiff and several immigrant anglers; diverse applications are welcomed.
Let us hope that ‘the few’ who take part in the volunteer bailiff pilot scheme eventually grow into ‘the many’. Because the threats we face show no signs of receding, quite the reverse. We will need plenty of volunteers - both for this scheme and in general – including of course those who volunteer their support in the form of Angling Trust membership. Because the more who do, the better this volunteer scheme will be when it is rolled out nationally; and the whole future of our sport will be so much the brighter.
The Angling Trust relies on membership subscriptions and donations to fight for fish and fishing and develop its participation projects to get more people fishing. Fish Legal, who act as the legal arm of the Trust in England and which was formerly known as the ACA, represent member clubs and organisations whose fishing is affected by pollution and other illegal environmental acts.
With more membership income and donations these two bodies would do even more to protect OUR fishing. That would mean more volunteer bailiffs on the bank, expanding its Building Bridges project, which helps to educate Eastern European anglers on UK fishing laws and customs, to go nationwide, assisting more clubs to build up their membership levels, running more competitions and reaching out to give anglers in all regions of the country access to its political lobbying power and campaigns.
So join now at www.anglingtrust.net or by calling 0844 77 00 616 – it costs less than 50p a week!
Over to you…
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