How many of us, I wonder, really appreciate the voluntary work to protect our fisheries done so willingly by countless angling club bailiffs throughout the country? The fact is that club bailiffs, or ‘Keepers’ in law, have a very difficult job to do – and in this day and age a potentially dangerous one. Take, for example, what recently happened to Burton Mutual Angling Club Bailiff John Anderson at Branston Water Park: “Bailiff attacked with Knife” This appalling incident was not the greatest start to 2014 for angling. Society today is often unpredictable, sometimes violent, and frequently litigious. All anglers, of course, have a legal reason to carry a knife – and you never know who you are actually dealing with when approaching strangers on the bank. Indeed, the Environment Agency (EA) confirm that more of their officers are assaulted and abused whilst checking rod licences than engaged on any other aspect of enforcement. This does not mean that we should no longer police our fisheries as we have always done – but what it does mean is that angling clubs need to move with the times and wise-up in certain respects. Today, we all, I’m sure, know something about ‘Health & Safety’ and ‘Risk Assessment’ – but do we really understand how crucial these things are to underpinning many things we now do, at work and leisure? The message in this context has to be ‘safety first’ – and at all times.
By nature of the activity, for example, club bailiffs are operating in a potentially dangerous environment – near water – which is often deep and fast flowing. Never, however, have I ever seen a bailiff wearing a life jacket – and, given the presence of knives, how many have ever even considered wearing covert knife-proof vests? Neither, in my view, is ‘OTT’ in this day and age. Having recognised the need to provide guidance for and professional training to angling clubs, enabling them to better understand and deliver their role and responsibilities in 2014, last year the Angling Trust, EA, Institute of Fisheries Management and National Wildlife Crime Unit agreed to work together to provide Fisheries Enforcement Workshops (FEW). The idea was for these to include sessions on the law, the bigger picture of the forthcoming Rural Crime Strategy, how the EA delivers intelligence-led enforcement, the role of the angling club bailiff, and – inevitably but all-importantly – Health & Safety and Risk Assessment. The intention is to deliver one of these day-long courses in all eight Angling Trust regions, the first, for Midland member clubs, having been provided in December 2013. Amongst the delegates was John Williams, General Secretary of the Birmingham Anglers’ Association, who commented that ‘Such a course is long overdue and it is great to see all involved working together and making such positive progress’. Details of further Workshops will be released shortly to all Angling Trust member clubs. Having already worked with my EA colleague Adrian Saunders to produce the ‘Elementary Guide to Angling Law & Fisheries Enforcement’ (which can be downloaded free here ), we are poised to start work on guidance for angling club bailiffs, based upon our Workshops. Again, this will, in due course, be available to all via www.anglingtrust.net. By educating angling clubs in this way we hope to increase the quality of bailiffing, increase our contribution to the bigger picture of combating Rural Crime and, most importantly, keeping these tireless volunteers safe. Personal safety is absolutely paramount – something none of us should ever forget. Next time I’ll be reporting on some significant work currently going on behind the scenes with various police forces, the EA and Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS). In the meantime, readers might find this article concerning my wider work to be of interest: Professional Security, and this regarding the VBS generally: Voluntary Bailiff Service.
I’ve also been asked to write a little about my personal fishing – the problem is, what fishing?! These days I fish only for pike and zander, pretty much exclusively on the rivers Severn and Wye. Having enjoyed a great summer and autumn afloat after zander, my winter piking started off well, with a 20.08 from the Severn on 22 November 2013, and a 25.0 from the Wye a fortnight later, but then these two mighty spate rivers rose – and have remained unfishable ever since. A few trips in desperation to an old gravel pit haunt failed to produce the required result, only serving to remind me, in fact, that for me, only rivers will do – and the sooner they are fishable again the better!
By Dilip Sarkar MBE, Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Manager: