As a follow-up to my last piece A Million Voices for Angling I would like to deal with a few points and comments which emerged from it, as set out below. I mention the points concerned, by the way, because I consider them significant, or because the arguments echo views I have heard elsewhere.
First off, I have been accused of failing to differentiate between defeatism and reality. In my understanding reality is something out there to be lived in and coped with; it is constantly changing so it is no use just saying to yourself that reality has changed, that’s what the real world does. So whereas most anglers forty or fifty years’ ago took up the sport as kids, many anglers now begin fishing in their early twenties, thirties or even later. Just because coach-loads of angling steelworkers no longer set out from Sheffield to fish every weekend, it does not mean that fishing is finished, just that its social context is different.
Joining a club and spending time fishing with kids is a very laudable thing; a great PR gesture on a personal level. But there also needs to be PR work at a political level. Lobbying and influencing politicians, not to mention stating your case in competition with other, possibly competing, water users and organisations, takes time and money, as well as the right contacts and expertise. You cannot achieve this except by mean of a strong representative body. If you do happen to have the relevant contacts and expertise, I am sure the Angling Trust would love to hear from you, by the way.
Also, who is to say there will not, at some stage, be a reaction amongst kids to the indoor, urban, internet-based lifestyle. I gather that this has actually taken place in France in recent years, and kids have been wanting to try outdoor activities again, of which fishing is just one. The same applies to ethnic and other minorities. Just because fishing does not form part of their culture, does not mean that things cannot change. I think quite a few politicians would back moves to provide funding to get them involved in activities like fishing, in the interests of a bit of cultural unity for a change.
The real point here is that if we have not already done the political lobbying and extolled the merits of fishing and its benefit to the environment and the economy, then the kids in question will be doing something else when they finally get outdoors: climbing, walking, football or whatever; many of them may be in canoes ploughing through your carefully chosen, baited swim!
Having first got politicians (and they keep changing, and so do their policies – also part of democratic reality) to appreciate the value of angling, we need to keep up the momentum on them in a number of areas: encouraging people to fish, combating pollution, fighting local angling bans, you name it…
Defeatism, on the other hand, is an attitude of mind. It is the psychological state which means that we end up doing nothing, and just waiting for things to take their course, which they surely will if we do nothing. A worrying number of anglers have this attitude. Even worse is apathy: just shutting your mind to what is happening and not really caring because there are certain issues which anglers must be seen to be taking an interest in and questioning.
Fracking is one such issue.
Anglers must be seen to be taking an interest in this process. It produces cheap energy and will, it is true, free us in the long run from dependency on the likes of Gazprom. However, it is also a process which carries high risks: of pollution and accident. The USA has discovered this already. There is limited scope in the UK without risk. If there is no objection to it, then we may be left shouting after the event when prime bits of river or premier stillwaters are polluted through contamination of groundwater. Frankly, if fracking is eventually confined to the least damage-prone geographical areas, this will be a considerable result for us. It is clearly set to go ahead. The political and economic pressures for it to happen are quite irresistible. And if it is done in an unrestricted manner, then it could lead to considerable damage to the environment.
I think somebody expressed reservations about large, strong organisations, quoting the example of the RSPCA. True, the RSPCA appears to have grown too big for its boots. The BBC recently did a ‘Face the Facts’ programme (Radio 4) on the RSPCA and its authoritarian attitudes and bullying tactics. (Its stated anti-angling policy did not feature in the programme, but then angling never gets a mention, does it?) Imagine a programme in the same series taking the Angling Trust to task for having grown too powerful and abusing its position! I think it will be a long time at this rate before that happens…So worry about that when we are big and strong enough!
This brings me back to the RSPB, which as I said before has more angling members than there are individual anglers who have joined the Angling Trust. The RSPB also has more members than the total number of all UK political parties. But of course at the same time the RSPB exercises more influence on politicians than virtually any other organisation…
Actually, I think the latter attitude stems more from a distrust of politicians and political parties – which in itself is quite a healthy mindset. But if it means that we do not speak to politicians and try to influence them, then it becomes another form of defeatism, a trick which we can ill afford to miss.
Some of you are clearly concerned about the fact that the Angling Trust’s policies do not exactly match your own interests. So what? Is there any reason why angler-members who find fault with a particular Angling Trust line on a specific issue cannot express their thoughts on the subject to the Angling Trust? The important issue in my view is that we are all anglers, and an attack against a particular group of anglers is an attack against all. There is also the point that if I support/employ someone to look after my interests, I do not tell him what to think or how to go about his business. I trust his professional judgement, and back him to get on with the job.
So there we are. I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about.
Oh, and just one more thing, please stop referring to me as ‘Ron’!