It is, I’ve decided, a funny old world. Since the Iron Curtain came crashing down and former communist states joined the European Union, some people from those countries have decided to work temporarily or make their homes permanently in England – this free movement being provided for by legislation. No-one, of course, anticipated the effect this would have on angling. To the people of central and Eastern Europe, as we all now know, fish are seen as a food-source, whereas in our more conservation-based culture we fish for sport only, returning our catch. This is especially important considering that there are over one million freshwater anglers in England and given that the sport fishing industry is worth some £3.5 billion to the economy annually. Fishing, though, is deeply embedded in those European cultures, so unsurprisingly many of those who came here started fishing in England. Because some continued doing what came naturally to them – taking fish for the pot – it is easy to assume that this was because there was a deliberate disregard for our laws and angling rules. Polish-speaking Building Bridges Project Officer puts forward an alternative and very interesting view, however: –
‘I am passionate about angling, which is a way of life to me, and always has been. When I came to live in England , however, it was very difficult to find information. It is easy to say “They should speak English”, but how many people, I wonder, are fluent in the tongue of their adopted country upon arrival? There has also been a reluctance on behalf of some sections of the angling community to engage with migrant anglers. This is unhelpful and only makes the problem worse’.
Building Bridges Project was the vision of Project Manager Rado Papiewski, who worked alone on the initiative for five years, providing multi-lingual information and trying to integrate migrant anglers into the British angling community. There is only so much, however, that one man can do – especially considering that although Rado is a Polish-speaker and gained assistance from volunteers of other nationalities, there are people living here from many other European countries – including Lithuania.
So it was that earlier this year, Rado and I duplicated the work we undertook in Poland during 2014, working with the authorities and seeing the country and culture first hand. This trip was equally enlightening: http://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/2015/08/13/enforcement-mission-to-lithuania/
The Angling Trust being awarded the National Angling Services Contract by the Environment Agency, to deliver several outcomes, has provided the means for Building Bridges to be expanded; Patrycja has joined us as a Project Officer, along with Lithuanian-speaker Martynas Pranaitis – who has been a member of our Voluntary Bailiff Service for over three years, and who has to be one of the most dedicated people I know in the fight against poaching and fish theft. Please see:
So, Patrycja and Martynas will be supporting the visionary Rado Papiewski in educating migrant anglers. Obviously with Rado and Patrycja originating from Poland, we have that base covered – having Martynas aboard means that we are better placed to engage with the Lithuanian community in England. And we’ve made a good start…
In January 2015, Rado and I went to Westminster and met with Daniel Kawczsynski MP, the Prime Minister’s Envoy on Polish & Eastern European Diaspora in the UK. It is difficult, sometimes, for non-anglers to understand why this issue is so important – the division being caused to our community being just one – but we got there in the end. In Lithuania, Linas Janouskas, the Vice-Minister for the Environment, who is actually a Volunteer Bailiff himself, is fully supportive and collectively we arranged to meet the Lithuanian Ambassador in England, Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene. The reason for this is that we wanted to ensure that the Ambassador – her country’s representative in ours – was aware of the issue and help us engage with both the Lithuanian press and community in England. Daniel joined us at the Lithuanian Embassy in London on 7 December 2015, helping us explain and confirm the nature and extent of this very real problem requiring redress. I am pleased to say that the Ambassador was very understanding and fully supportive, immediately offering to help distribute multi-lingual information via the Embassy and connect Building Bridges staff with Lithuanian editors and schools.
Interestingly, all of a sudden the British national press have leapt upon this issue, generating a lot of publicity in newspapers from The Sunday Times to the good old Sun. This problem has been ongoing for years; Rado has worked extremely hard on Building Bridges for over five years, attracting little interest from the national press. Why the sudden interest? Well, to me that isn’t difficult to guess, looking at the heavily loaded articles and direct misquotes – but there we are: we can only put the information out there, how the press then report upon things is something over which we have no control. Nonetheless, all of this media exposure, including Radios 1 and 4 in addition to numerous regional stations, has helped us raise awareness in an unprecedented way. And that is the key. As anglers, we are all well aware of the issue, but non-anglers are not. Mr Kawczynski was not. The Lithuanian Ambassador was not. They are now – and are helping us, which is the point: we have to request help from the right people, in the right way, not moan and whinge amongst ourselves on Facebook and elsewhere. Things like this are complex and take time to resolve long-term – but this is undoubtedly the way forward and no-one will convince me otherwise.
Returning to Patrycja’s point about the difficulty of finding information, this is now something we can address. When the new Angling Trust website (eventually!) goes online, we are arranging to have a ‘one-stop enforcement shop’, with all the relevant information in one place, in various languages. So, progress, and a big welcome to Patrycja and Martynas from all colleagues at the Angling Trust (and Fisheries Enforcement Support Service in particular).
Talking of the ‘FESS’, all six of our new Regional Enforcement Managers have all been busy, attending Angling Trust forums and meetings with the Environment Agency, amongst other things, as they work on rolling out the Voluntary Bailiff Service throughout England. A full update, in fact, regarding the Voluntary Bailiff Service, including details of how to apply etc, can be found here: –
Down in the West Country, SW Regional Enforcement Manager Nevin Hunter has been out and about: ‘It was great today meeting fisheries students and staff from Bridgwater College, in company with Dean Asplin, our Angling Trust Senior Regional Officer. Dean gave a presentation outlining his role and how students can become more engaged with angling and the Angling Trust. I focused on my new role, explaining the background to fisheries enforcement and the role we will be playing in the Fisheries Enforcement Support Service. It was ironic that one of the issues I mentioned was the importance of preventing crime by ensuring that tackle is marked and identifiable with a product such as SMARTWATER – the irony is that one of the students had recently had tackle that he regarded as “priceless” stolen but it was not marked; even if recovered by the police, therefore, it won’t be identifiable. This is a great pity, because uniquely marking our kit is easy now, for less than a tenner: http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=1033§ionTitle=SmartWater+Discount%3A+Get+Special+Fishing+Packs+for+Just+%A39.99
‘All the students and staff are active anglers, and I explained how we are currently working to recruit for the Voluntary Bailiff Service. As some of the students are keen to eventually work for the Environment Agency, they agreed that the experience they could gain as Volunteer Bailiffs would be great for their future CVs – with their ages ranging from seventeen to forty, I think we could have some great Volunteer Bailiffs in the making!’
In the Midlands, Regional Enforcement Manager Kevin Pearson has been as busy as ever, recently visiting the River Trent at Clifton, Nottinghamshire: ‘Talking to Holme Pit Action Group Chair John Lee about closer links with Police, the EA and Voluntary Bailiff Service to protect their new water opposite Beeston Weir. Free membership for youngsters to get them involved. Great idea!’ The good news is that Nottinghamshire Police are now all duly signed up to join Operation TRAVERSE, and we are currently working on a press release with that force. Paul Thomas, our Eastern Regional Enforcement Manager, has already recruited both Humberside and Norfolk to TRAVERSE, which is now going through. NE Regional Enforcement Manager Giles Evans has got Northumberland signing up to Operation LEVIATHAN, and NW Regional Enforcement Manager Dave Lees is looking at adding no less than Greater Manchester Police – his old force. So, more progress.
Now, let’s talk about Operation TRAVERSE and have a reality check in certain respects. What we are dealing with here is a massive sea-change with the police, which is updating training, thinking and procedures to account for the fact that fishing without permission and the theft of fish are actually criminal offences. This takes time. The police service is also under massive stress and pressure due to other priorities – including terrorism. Someone challenged this on Facebook recently, facetiously asking ‘when the lost bomb went off in Lincolnshire’. Well, the reason this is an issue is because the recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere have understandably seen the public demanding that the police keep us safe. Rightly so – but that means more firearms officers and teams, which are expensive. There is only so much money, so clearly funds will be diverted from various sources. So, the very fact that in spite of this the police remain onside, in difficult times, is commendable – and most welcome. In Lincolnshire, there has also been a temporary vacuum caused by the senior officer responsible for Rural Crime moving on. His replacement, a Chief Inspector, has recently been appointed, so Paul Thomas and I will be travelling to Lincolnshire Police HQ for a meeting aimed at getting the wheel back on. Another aim will be to see PC Nick Willey, who leads for his force, given more support. It must also be remembered that TRAVERSE was originally supposed to simply concern Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire Police – it was never envisaged that more forces would join, all of which complicates things administratively. The truth is these things can be long and drawn out – but what we are doing is effecting a very long-term change, so this has to be done properly.
Criticism has also been levelled on Facebook at the Environment Agency’s level of resources in the TRAVERSE region. This is certainly a valid and moot point, but what anglers probably don’t know is that this has been recognised; in fact, fisheries enforcement generally in currently being reviewed internally. The advent of VBS Eastern, of course, will undoubtedly see an increase in reported incidents and incoming intelligence – all pointless unless this information can be processed and responded to, if only by way of pre-scripted and appropriately resourced tactical operations. So, it would seem that the only way forward is for more resources to be provided by the Agency, which is exactly what we hope will happen and one of the reasons TRAVERSE was the first such operation of its kind.
However, any perceived lack of action is not entirely down to the authorities. Time and time again, in spite of the information we have made widely available, anglers report the wrong thing to the wrong people, or the evidence required to prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt, which is what we must do in a criminal court, simply is not there. So, please wise up, folks, and read the information that’s out there – and let’s ensure that our expectations are realistic and help the police and EA as much as we can to help ourselves.
Please, please read these – and nothing wrong with printing out a copy and keeping them in your rucksack:-
The really important thing is that we keep reporting incidents – because the volume of those calls is what strengthens the argument for allocation of greater resources and provision of a higher priority. Should you feel that the service arising was lacking – just let me know, so that this can be raised accordingly. One thing I would say, however, is that call-centres have many staff, with a high turnover, and, of course, people do go on rest day, annual leave and sick. It is extremely difficult, therefore, to keep 100% of staff fully briefed 100% of the time, and remember that there are inevitably numerous other initiatives and operations running concurrently. Briefing is an ongoing process, and in spite of the best efforts and intentions, sometimes it may well be that the call-taker hasn’t heard of the operation concerned. Indeed, Operations like both LEVIATHAN and TRAVERSE are unusual in that they are ongoing indefinitely – whereas most operations are of a short-term nature within defined dates. Confusion may, therefore, arise on occasions – if this happens, again, just let me know.
So we need to understand the law and process, to help the authorities to help ourselves. It is, indeed, ‘a funny old world’, when the answer to many seems to be hurling insults at abuse online at the very people working 24/7 to resolve this issue. The fact is, that is not the way forward: we all have to work together and not spit our dummies out when things go wrong.
On the fishing front – there isn’t any. Since taking my 23.03 on the first trip of this season to the Wye, the Severn and Wye have been unfishable due to high water. Who’d be a river piker…?
Dilip Sarkar MBE, Angling Trust National Enforcement Manager
9 December 2015