In part two of his look back at twenty years of the Barbel Society Steve Pope looks at publications and projects

Lawrence Breakspear edited the first ‘Barbel Fisher’ and knowing how things work today it really was a master effort to produce that first issue! Back in 1995 there was no luxury of a computer or email and scanning photos, it all had to be put together by pure hard graft!

Two magazines was enough for Lol before Gordon Scott took over, and he too found himself putting the whole thing together. This carried on for three years until we joined forces with Kevin Clifford and his team at Carp Fishing News – one of the best moves we ever made! Other editors have moved the magazine on and it’s fair to say that the quality of content puts ‘Barbel Fisher’ right there at the forefront of specialist angling magazines, this becomes even more apparent if you sit down and go through every single copy as I have recently done.

Gordon Scott edited the first few newsletters as well, he was a gifted writer. There are many fine quotes to be found if you go back through the first seven or eight issues, one of my favourites is this one: ‘Although the Barbel Society is still very much in its infancy, I think it fair to say that it is a precocious infant!’ We lost Gordon far too soon; he would have excelled in this age of social media and he is remembered each year at our show, when Peter Wheat presents the Gordon Scott Award to a worthy winner.
The Gordon Scott Award

The newsletter has been through a number of changes, from its first incarnation comprising twelve A4 printed sides to an A5 mini magazine and there have been quite a few editors. What the future holds for the newsletter I’m not entirely sure but I would say that in this modern age it is an area where we can make substantial savings that would then reflect in the subscription fee but that’s for another feature at another time!

Mike BurdonMike Burdon was without a doubt one of the most impressive men I have ever met and I was extremely pleased that he not only firmly supported the concept of a Barbel Society but was prepared to become really involved. I had first come into contact with Mike through the Barbel Catchers, he caught my eye at the very first meeting I attended, to be honest he frightened the life out of me, but I certainly knew that in Mike there was a man of real gravitas. Mike took on the Research and Conservation (R and C) role and set about the work that laid the foundations for the future.

•    In the very first newsletter Mike outlined nine points and I will repeat them here:

•    To produce a Handling Code for wide distribution

•    To study barbel movements from spawning sites to summer and winter locations

•    To reach some conclusions regarding the stillwater issue, long term survival and growth

•    Identification of spawning sites to protect them

•    Maintain details of barbel stockings in rivers

•    Determine reasons for annual weight variations in a variety of rivers

•    Identify the factors affecting adverse fry survival in an attempt to rectify the situation

•    Establish if there is a reliable guide to the sex of barbel outside of the breeding period

•    Any other matters? Possible DNA recognition etc.

And Mike added a very important rider – Assistance required! You can see from those points that Mike was very much on the ball, twenty years down the line and we still need to do more!

During Mike’s tenure he pushed for members to get involved with their river consultatives, become NRA liaison officers and in 2003 he proposed we undertake a study of barbel populations on all rivers. We also met the EA Head of Fisheries and visited Calverton, we presented a detailed report to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review board outlining our objections to the stocking of barbel into stillwaters and this eventually led to us agreeing a joint statement with the EA.

From 2004 it was very apparent that Mike’s health was failing him and he passed away a year later and it was a huge blow both to me personally and to the Society.We were very fortunate in having Pete Reading ready and willing to take up the baton and to build on Mike’s fine work and these past ten years have seen huge strides on the R and C front with Pete at the helm.

It was obvious that we needed money in order to make a difference and thanks to Barry Norris we discovered the perfect way to raise funds – online auctions! Barry’s first in 2005 paved the way and the following year we embarked on what has now become an annual event, the Research and Conservation Online Auction. Nine auctions have so far taken place and each through the generosity of the trade, the barbel community and members has resulted in many thousands of pounds raised to spend on R and C projects. In some respects it has totally transformed the Society and gives us a string to our bow that truly sets us apart.

The work we have undertaken has been detailed by Pete on many occasions and I will detail the projects here:

•    Stocking of the River Dane – Following a pollution the BS made a grant to a local club to help establish barbel populations

•    Stocking of the River Aire – The BS made a grant to a small club to help improve barbel populations

•    Stour Barbel Project – In partnership with the EA and local clubs the BS raised over £5k for habitat improvement works and work on a weir at Throop was completed with the help of £2k from the Society. Ten thousand barbel have been stocked as part of the project

•    Throop Stocking – The BS is helping to pay for 1500 barbel that have been stocked. These fish will be marked and monitored as part of the Bournemouth University PhD project

•    Arborfield Weir Project – The Society provided several thousand pounds worth of gravel and materials to support the EA led project on the River Loddon. The Society is also funding research into barbel movements using marked stocked fish

•    Bransford Project – In partnership with the EA and Severn Rivers Trust the Society has carried out habitat improvement work. The SRT used funds for other habitat works on the Teme

•    St. Patrick’s Stream – The Society paid for a fish survey and report and will support the resultant habitat works with funding

•    Bournemouth University Research Projects – The Society has funded a review of all barbel research work, also tank experiments, a scale reading study, a database of all available barbel related research is to be compiled over time by the university.

•    In conjunction with Queen Mary College, London – research on barbel diet. The Society has committed £4k per year to a PhD project that builds on the work of Karen Twine and will involve work on other rivers and will investigate populations and recruitment. The Society is also supporting a study of barbel genetics

•    Teme/Severn PhD Project – Working closely with the EA and SRT the Society is supporting a major project to investigate barbel populations

•    Barbel and Gravels – The Society helped to fund a PhD project at Loughborough researching the effect of barbel foraging on gravel mobility and structure

•    River Cherwell Project – In conjunction with the EA and Wild Trout Trust the Society provided funding to provide instream cover etc.

•    Hampshire Avon Habitat Works – Using funds raised in conjunction with the Avon Roach Project, the Society has and will continue to carry out habitat improvement. Further work will go ahead in partnership with the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust, supported by the EA and local fishing clubs

•    River Lea Stocking Support – The Society has funded the stocking of 400 barbel into a side stream to monitor their spread and survival

•    River Rib Restoration – The Society has committed funds to a major habitat project in partnership with the EA, local clubs and wildlife interests

•    Handling Code – With help from Hugh Miles the code is now on DVD and provided free to clubs and other outlets

•    Spawning Survey – Ongoing project to collect data

•    Barbel Society River Records – The Society owns the copyright and the large amount of hard copy data compiled over the years. We have digitised the files and aim to maintain them long term

I am sure even the most fervent critic would have to admit that for a purely voluntary organisation that’s a damn good effort in a little over six years. Mike Burdon would be proud of what the Society has achieved on the R and C front, where there is a will there will always be a way.

Back to 1995 and I must mention Phil Buckingham. Phil took charge of the Society finances and did a wonderful job for many years. His skill and commitment to the Society was recognised when he became the first recipient of the Gordon Scott award and I’m pleased to say that Phil is still involved today, a true BS stalwart.

In the final part of this retrospective I will be taking a look at the Society timeline, some campaigns and the committees who have driven it all.