“The world has changed,” says Dennis Puttock, secretary for the Bromley District Angling Society, which was recently dealt a staggering blow.
More than 70 years ago, the BDAS began fishing at what is now Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. Over that time, the reserve’s lakes, fish, trees and habitat in general have been monitored and managed by the angling club’s members. That long relationship could end in March, the deadline set by Kent Wildlife Trust – the current caretaker of the reserve – for the BDAS to get out, even though it has three years left on its permit.
The trust hasn’t given a reason, other than it’s in its plan for a ‘wilder Kent’. The plan is typical of those dreamt up by the UK’s wider rewilding movement, which believes reintroducing species then leaving the land and animals alone will turn Britain’s countryside into a sort of garden of Eden utopia.
The trust has been running the reserve since 2002 and complains there is not enough wildlife.
“They’re talking about bringing back wildlife that was here in medieval times,” says Dennis, “but of course there are a lot more people around now… The world is a different place.”
Kent Wildlife Trust’s public consultation paper about its plans includes the kind of fear tactics employed in many animal charities – ‘give us your money and we might be able to save some animals’.
“Our flagship Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve is home to over 2,000 species including a diverse range of plants, fungi and bird life,” the three-page paper says. “However, key species are missing and helping wildlife return could provide the crucial nature-based solutions to the climate and nature crisis we face. We have a vision for a Wilder Kent. This reserve could become home to new species such as beaver and otter that could, over time, transform this landscape.”
However, even the Wild Otter and Beaver Trusts – not best known as angling advocates – have publicly stated that there is no reason why angling cannot continue within KWT’s plans for the reserve.
The trust’s plan isn’t just about reintroducing species – the visitor centre and car park will have facelifts.
“They have a coach park planned, bigger car park, but they want everyone to come into the reserve through the visitor centre so they can control who is coming in,” says Dennis. “They’re obviously going to try to take the space that we use for parking for something or other… That’s the plan. They had planned for a much bigger development to start with and that was rejected before it even went to the planning committee. The planners in Sevenoaks said ‘You’re never going to get away with that’. They’ve basically been told they can only use the existing footprint of the building that’s there. That’s what they’re basing the plans on now.”
Kent Wildlife Trust spun the rejection into a boast about its own ‘green’ savviness.
“We considered a complete rebuild project,” says its publicity bumf, “but after careful planning we have determined that we can significantly enhance access and opportunities for the whole community whilst being more cost- efficient and environmentally responsible with a lower carbon footprint.”
The trust justified its proposals in an email to Fieldsports News that did not answer the question about why the anglers were being turfed out after seven decades: “In recent years, the high number of visitors at Sevenoaks nature reserve has put increased pressure on wildlife habitats on the site. In order to manage this the Trust has plans to redevelop its visitor centre at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to better accommodate visitors and reduce their impact on the site.”
This seems at odds with work carried out by the trust just last year – opening a trail on a section of the reserve that has been off-limits to everyone for decades. The new trail has proved to be popular.
“It was done in 2020 and it runs right around the East Lake through what we understand to be the most sensitive ecological area of the whole site,” says Dennis. “As a result of lockdown there have been hundreds and hundreds of people walking round the lake and cyclists, joggers, cyclists going round there at night, swimmers, boaters, there have been rubber boaters out here as well.”
As more people moved in, glow worms and other species that thrived in the wildness, moved elsewhere. To BDAS and its members, Kent Wildlife Trust appears more interested in drawing visitors than protecting the reserve’s wildlife. At the same time, the rest of the reserve is falling to bits – crumbling signposts that may have been quaint, vandalised hides damaged and deserted, paths so muddy they’re virtually impassable.
“I think the problem is they don’t understand the site,” says Dennis. “They sit in Maidstone and pass their edicts but they don’t know how the site works.”
Kent Wildlife Trust’s former chairman, Michael Bax, was a former master of hounds. He probably understood the value of hunting and shooting to conservation, which may have been the reason he was squeezed out of power after antis campaigned to get him sacked in 2017. The trust does not allow hunting on its land but says it has a neutral view on the issue.
This pressure from antis may be the reason BDAS is getting thrown off the reserve. Membership secretary Mig Mostyn says losing the battle with the trust could set a depressing precedent.
“We do look at this kind of decision Kent Wildlife Trust are making as the thin end of the wedge. What next? I think they manage over 40 sites, a number of them have got water bodies on them and angling exists there. We do worry angling will be stopped on all of their sites. Where will it end?”
Mig, like many BDAS members, would like Kent Wildlife Trust to spend a day fishing at the reserve, to understand the important role they play in monitoring the reserve and keeping tabs on the condition and prevalence of wildlife.
“I often speak to people at work who say, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen a kingfisher. I’d love to see one’. I think crikey, I probably see a few a week,” says Mig. “It’s incredible when you’re sitting quietly angling… the amount of nature you see. You blend into the surroundings by sitting peacefully and the nature comes to you.”
UPDATE 03/03/2021: Following the release of our video and coverage from ITV, Kent Wildlife Trust met BDAS and the Angling Trust and agreed to allow the anglers to stay. Dennis Puttock said the group looked forward to working closely with the KWT to forge “a long-term plan for the benefit of nature conservation”.
Find out more about BDAS here
and the Kent Wildlife Trust here