I was amazed, and at the same time saddened, by some of the comments which followed up my previous piece ‘Get On Board’ to publicise the work of the Angling Trust.
Amazed, because of the time some of you appear to spend talking about nothing much – in fact I think some of you ought to get out fishing more – and saddened because anyone of an anti-angling disposition reading the string of comments would be encouraged by the apparent course to self-annihilation the angling world seems to be hell-bent on. Saddened also by the apparent faith some anglers still seem to have in the Environment Agency, which is after all in some ways nothing more than an arm of government.
I also sensed a certain boredom among some of you, hence an invitation (see below) from me to write something new on this subject.
Just to explain: I am not some celebrity, expert angler or anything like that; just someone who has fished since childhood, a competent angler (so I am told) who has enjoyed every minute of it, put a lot into it, and now feels that it would be a real shame if future generations were not able to enjoy the same level of sport. Their lives would lack something fundamental, a certain contact with nature which in this day and age is threatened by, among other things, increasing urbanisation and an indoor existence largely based on the Internet.
Even Victoria Braithwaite with her scientifically dubious research felt obliged to state in her book Do Fish Feel Pain? that whatever the pain issue might throw up on the scientific side of things, angling brings young people into direct contact with nature and was (in so many words) a means of making them aware of environmental issues. In other words, it has an educational value in addition to the pleasure it provides.
Other research has recently emerged, by the way, to confirm the opposite view: that fish do NOT feel pain. Hardly anyone has heard of it. But you would expect such unexciting research not to be widely publicised, wouldn’t you? It does not create much of a splash; it is rather like Transport for London or whoever expecting massive media coverage of their excellent safety record. It is, as we all know, not going to happen, since the real publicity-grabbing items are things like the Kings Cross fire, the 7/7 attack on the tube and the like – all things which the likes of you or I will for practical, statistical purposes never become the victims of. It would be like water companies expecting the media automatically to publicise the fact that they succeed in delivering clean, fresh water to every household they are connected to – or virtually every one; you can rest assured that the odd exception will grab the headlines.
And this is precisely the reason why these bodies have their own publicity/PR outfits: to make the general public aware of their achievements and to present a positive public image. And it is precisely this type of PR apparatus that angling needs. But with a miserably small number of individual anglers joining the organisation which is in effect their union, it is never going to get off the ground. A PR outfit which monitors and influences the media cannot be run on a shoestring.
Ask the RSPB. The RSPB, which once existed entirely on voluntary donations and subscriptions, has grown into a flourishing organisation with God knows how many million individual members. It has recently appointed a new head honcho with an annual salary of £100k. It has an annual income of God knows what, of which 18.5% effectively comes from you, the taxpayer: for example, through money from Defra (£4.5 million), the EU (£2.1 million), the EA (£1.2 million), or from local councils and similar bodies (£6.2 million). This all makes the RSPB one influential, powerful outfit.
The sad thing is of course that, given the claimed numbers of anglers around, they could also exercise enormous power and influence in a single organisation, if only they would join it. As things are, the work to promote and to defend fishing is done on a relative pittance.
The RSPB’s remit seems to have shifted from just protection of birds to comprise protection of the whole natural world. (Their website does not mention fish, by the way, so that knocks that one on the head.) Its slogan has changed in recent months from ‘The Voice of Nature’ to ‘A Million Voices for Nature’, and then more recently to ‘Giving Nature a Home’. Part of their task is apparently now keeping rivers clean for wildlife. This is illustrated by a picture of a kingfisher, a lovely bird to be sure. But even here, no fish feature in the big picture. Their recruitment/FAQ page now features a large picture of an otter. A taste of things to come, perhaps?
Yet the RSPB has more angling members than are members of the Angling Trust. So will we ever hear, to echo the former RSPB slogan: ‘a million voices for angling’? I doubt it; not at this rate…
There is no doubt in my mind that angling as we know it, with things as they stand, has no future in the long run. It is condemned, largely because of the factors of public unawareness, misinformation and angling apathy, to a gradual process of dwindling away, a slow death. Fewer and fewer people will fish; the proportion of young anglers will steadily fall away. Serious anglers will have probably emigrated to find pastures new, if they have not already made a bonfire of their gear in despair, that is.
If I wanted to, I could just carry on enjoying the fishing I still have until it is time to migrate to that ‘big river in the sky’ – and hang everything and everybody else, but I choose not to do that. I choose to invest some of my time in the defence and promotion of fishing as a way of putting something back into the sport, in the hope that it will have some kind of future.
And there is one overarching, vital task which must be carried out: that of recruiting young/younger people into angling. Without that, angling has not much to look forward to.
I sometimes think that such UK coarse anglers as are around in years to come will be confined to fishing in privately-run, overstocked, muddy holes in the ground. Probably they will need to be fenced off from the outside world to prevent our whiskery friends having a go at the stock and to keep poachers (and probably animal-libbers, for that matter) out, and covered overhead to ward off avian predators. Having stuck my neck out and said that, I would still love to be proved wrong.
So how about it folks, who will write a convincing riposte to what I have said above? I am not such a pessimist that I would not love to be shown conclusively to be worrying about nothing. And please no futile personal attacks, no gratuitous abuse, and above all no ‘what’s the use’ – style defeatism. One of you, I seem to remember, said he would like ‘something new’, so how about someone giving us precisely that? And please, let’s have some positive suggestions for a change!
Over to you, then…