Angling is a gentle sport. In Nottinghamshire fishers are showing they can also be tough when their sport is threatened. The threat? Their new landlord, the local wildlife trust.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust purchased the Attenborough Nature Reserve in December 2020. Now groups including the Angling Trust and Countryside Alliance are fighting to save the right to fish there.
Martin Salter of the Angling Trust says the Nottingham Anglers Association has been fishing the reserve for more than 20 years. He says: “It’s a 380-acre site and slowly but surely, the people managing that reserve, once the Wildlife Trust took over a few years ago, started squeezing the anglers out. And we got to the stage that in 380 acres from a time when they were able to fish the whole of the reserve they were down to 25 pegs, literally a tiny proportion of the water that was left was allowed for anglers.”
He says that, although angling hasn’t actually been banned, what the trust has done is squeeze out the angling club. He adds: “It’s part of a deliberate policy by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to ensure they have no angling whatsoever on their reserves, even when it’s taken place there for generations. And that’s in marked contrast to other wildlife trusts, many of whom encourage and even sell tickets for angling.”
Under the previous owners of the Attenborough Reserve, anglers had access to the whole site. Even the 25 pegs that anglers were offered were busy areas popular with the general public and not suitable for quiet and peaceful fishing. Also, the dedicated anglers’ car park was closed, and members would have to use the main visitor centre car park and pay £3 per day on top of the money they pay the Trust through the lease.
Charles Jardine of the Countryside Alliance says that the wildlife trust’s actions could create a dangerous precedent. He says: “There’s always a ripple effect to anything that comes about. So if somebody if one organization does it, then it by dint of what they’re doing, it’s going to probably concertina out to others. We have to look at this and nip it in the bud very, very quickly, because if this is allowed to go on, then one of the nation’s favorite sports is going to really reap a very bitter harvest.”
Martin points out that anglers are key to wildlife conservation. He says anglers have far more in common with people who are actively out there trying to enhance and preserve the environment than we ever have in terms of issues that might divide us. He says: “That’s why we’ve worked with wildlife trusts in the past on issues that would be damaging to our angling and to the watercourses and to the wildlife and to the wetlands.”
He says the trust is being shortsighted. He says: “I suspect what has happened is that unlike other wildlife trust where fishing is allowed, I think there’s probably an extremist element that are holding sway within that particular wildlife trust up in Nottinghamshire and they want to push forward and make sure no angling occurs on any of their sites.”
Martin says the Angling Trust is challenging the policy and wants to see it reversed. He says: “We think it is completely unacceptable that wildlife trusts that get money from public purses should be discriminating against a perfectly lawful sport. Which governments of all political persuasions accept is a force for good.”
The newly-elected chairman of the Angling Trust, Sir Charles Walker MP, has raised the issue at Westminster. He wants MPs to hold a debate about the benefit of angling. He says: “During that debate, can we celebrate those enlightened wildlife trusts that promote angling. Can we call out those such as the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which states on its website that it has a longstanding policy of not allowing angling on any land for which it holds the angling rights. This recently brought it into conflict with the Nottinghamshire Anglers Association that last week was banned from the Action Nature Reserve.”
The MP is a keen angler. He says: “Anglers like me love our rivers and streams as much as football fans love their club clubs. It is a visceral relationship and wildlife trust should not get in between it.”
Nottinghamshire is not the first wildlife trust to try to do this. Kent Wildlife Trust tried and failed, to evict Bromley Anglers Association from lakes at Seven Oaks. Martin says the Angling Trust has a track record of standing up for its members.
The Angling Trust and the Countryside Alliance promote angling’s many health benefits. Charles says the value of angling isn’t just as a recreation. He says: “It’s also something that helps mindfulness wellbeing. And it’s even being offered by doctors as a way to get over certain mental health issues. So, there is a value in what we do, not just in the natural world.”
The pandemic has seen a boom in fishing, with the Environment Agency last year reporting 16% more fishing licences sold.
Martin agrees that the health benefits are well respected by the medical profession. He says: “It’s been acknowledged by the NHS, by the Home Office and you can see by the number of social prescribers that that put people with all sorts of issues to deal with towards angling as it it’s a very beneficial activity.”
Martin says politicians across the spectrum agree that angling is a force for good. He says: “It has multiple benefits in terms of mental health, social development. And it teaches a lot of people about the importance of having a clean and healthy environment. It is clean rivers, clean environment, a healthy environment, and maximum biodiversity that creates the environment upon which our sport depends.”
Martin says anglers champion environmental issues, which is why he feels it’s regrettable that wildlife trust is taking a ‘blinkered attitude’ towards anglers.
In a statement the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust says: ‘Following the decision by Nottinghamshire Anglers Association not to renew their option on the fishing rights at Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust announced a 12 month suspension of all fishing permits at the site.
‘Despite the Trust’s longstanding policy of not allowing angling on land for which it holds rights, the Trust was open to renewing the arrangement with NAA due to our long working relationship – subject to a reduction in the number of fishing spots or ‘pegs’ – in keeping with the charity’s objectives of managing the reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.’
The Angling Trust is meeting with the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to fight for the right to continue fishing on 28 July 2022. Martin says the Nottingham Anglers Association is a preparing plan to deliver angling on a far larger proportion of the reserve in a more suitable location at a price that is sensible and fair to everybody. The association will be putting proposals back to the trust to get angling back on Attenborough. Martin hopes it can be in a way that allows the trust’s objectives to be realised and also allows the angling club to have a decent access to a reasonable amount of water at a fair price.
- Many wildlife trusts do support fishing. Staffordshire Wildlife Trust sells permits directly for its water at Doxey Marshes, which has quality tench and pike, among other species
- Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northants Wildlife Trusts allow fishing at Felmersham Gravel Pits, which have a decent head of carp, tench and silvers
- Wiltshire Wildlife Trust provide interesting mixed fishing at Steeple Langford Nature Reserve, which includes coarse and carp fishing at Brockbank Lake, as well as some day ticket fly fishing on the River Wylye.
- Hampshire and Isle of Wight WLT offers quality Stillwater coarse fishing and a stretch of the River Itchen at Winnall Moors.
- Norfolk Wildlife Trust provides fishing tickets at Martham Broad, which has all the usual species you would expect, including roach, rudd, perch and bream.
For more about the Attenborough gravel pits, visit the Nottingham Anglers Association website NottinghamAnglers.co.uk.
Update 10 August 2022: Nottingham Anglers win
In an update from the Angling Trust, after meeting the Angling Trust and members of the Nottingham Anglers Association, the wildlife trust has agreed to allow fishing to resume. Negotiations will continue into the details of what areas anglers can use once fishing starts in June 2023.
Here is Martin Salter, from the Angling Trust: