A great start ……a long and winding road and ……making a difference were all themes my Regional Enforcement Manager colleagues covered in their previous blogs. So having volunteered to write the next blog update you are probably wondering what my theme will be? To keep your interest I thought I wouldn’t just talk about the patrolling being done by Voluntary Bailiffs across the South West region or the great partnership work they have been doing, but take a slightly different tack . Without fail when interviewing prospective members for the Voluntary Bailiff Service they have wanted to put something back into the sport that has given them so much. Six months on from the start of the Voluntary Bailiff Service in the South-West and with two induction training days completed, I am proud to say they are doing all this. So what about you? What you have done to protect the future of angling and to tackle those involved in illegal activity such as poaching?
Putting something back into angling is clearly evidenced with the hundreds of hours of patrols Voluntary Bailiffs have been put in over recent months. Where incidents have been seen they have been reported and actions have been taken by the Environment Agency and Police. Direct action like this is vital, but just as importantly – indirect action where we have worked to educate anglers has been well supported by the Voluntary Bailiff Service. In the past few months we have supported Police and Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officers building links with migrant anglers living and working in Mid-Devon attending open days, explaining our role to them and encouraging them to get involved in lawful angling. We are planning similar work in Cornwall over the coming months. Even better news – we now have a migrant angler as a member of the Voluntary Bailiff Service here in South-West England – someone who plays by the rules and is doing something to ensure that legal angling is supported across England!
Voluntary Bailiffs with PCSO Mel Smith, The Mid-Devon Migrant workers Officer at the Tiverton Canal
My name is Nevin Hunter and like the five other Regional Enforcement Manager colleagues I am an ex-Police Officer. Throughout my career I worked passionately as a Police Wildlife Crime Officer on a voluntary basis completing investigations over and above my normal duties. In the early days I was involved operationally tackling poaching of all sorts across Devon and Cornwall working closely with the Environment Agency and others. Dealing with poaching is probably how most Police Wildlife Crime Officers get involved with wildlife crime work.
Later in my career working nationally as the Head of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit brought me into contact with Dilip Sarkar in his role as the National Enforcement Manager for the Angling Trust. Totally professional in his approach, it soon became clear that here was someone I could do business with. After retirement it was perhaps only natural that I ended up as a volunteer in support of Dilip and was then lucky enough to get the Regional Enforcement Manager role when it was created last November.
My key role has been to develop and deliver the Voluntary Bailiff Service across South-West England. Our first induction course was held in February this year. With 20 people spread from South Gloucestershire, through Wiltshire, Dorset, Avon, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall I wondered just whether we would really be able to start the fightback against illegal fishing and fish theft. But it is clear that we are. Our most recent induction day was only a few weeks ago and another 18 Voluntary Bailiffs are now out there supporting angling.
Induction day for South-West England Voluntary Bailiffs supported by the Environment Agency and Police
The Voluntary Bailiff Service is not just about what we do out on the ground – eyes and ears are so important. Using them when we are not out on the ground is just as important. How many times have you overheard conversations amongst irate anglers in tackle shops, overheard conversations among club members or seen rants on Facebook about illegal fishing and how ‘no one does anything about it’ and even worse making racial slurs. And how many times have you seen and heard complaints about the Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officers or the Police not doing anything…. Yes loads of times. Often facts, stories and anecdotes are not reported and cynicism and scepticism grows and grows.
I recently discussed a case with a Voluntary Bailiff in Cornwall. He reported how he had been contacted about a ‘group of men’ fishing by a weir and how they were actively taking fish from club waters. The person reporting had only heard about this and was ‘concerned’ about attending because of the numbers of people involved. Being the dutiful guy he is and a member of the club, he went to the weir. The ‘group’ turned out to be a Grandad with two of his young Grandsons. They were using a single sea fishing rod and line and had taken no fish. The story had been blown out of all proportion. Not unusual at all. He has ensured that the facts are reported to club members offering reassurance that their waters are not being besieged by roving gangs! So important that we gather facts, not add to anecdotes!
When we are not out and about around waterways Voluntary Bailiffs in South-West England are visiting tackle shops and engaging with owners and staff, putting up posters and encouraging anglers to help themselves by becoming part of the Voluntary Bailiff Service. We are ensuring that any information we see and hear about is reported, but it is not just down to us – you can help by doing the same.
Dean Watts from Purbeck Angling, Wareham, Dorset
So if you provide information to the Environment Agency or the Police what is done with it? Does it just disappear into a black hole. Most information we provide is processed into intelligence and it drives the activity of all law enforcememnt agencies across the United Kingdom. It is no difference with information related to illegal fishing. Intelligence drives enforcement activity. The days of law enforcement activity in this country focused on general patrolling are long gone. Intelligence is processed to identify the threats posed and results in actions targetted to impact upon them. Is it any surprise then that with no information, there is no action?
To many it may seem that the world of intelligence is mystical and wonderous or an excuse not to do anything. It isn’t – think of it in this way. Intelligence is processed information. Each piece is like a jigsaw piece and it helps build a picture – when you see this clearly you can decide what the problem is and how best to deal with it. No information means, no picture means, no problem means, no action.
So you take my advice and report an incident or information. But in doing so, is that the end of any involvement for the Voluntary Bailiff Service. The answer often is no. In the past month I have supported an angling club in Wiltshire to secure the prosecution of two men caught illegally fishing on their waters. The club reported to the Police how they had caught the two men late one evening in February this year. The Police attended the incident and investigations got underway. I was able to help the Police charging the men with the correct offences and as a result they were recently convicted and fined at court.
Something else I would ask you to consider is signing up to Angling Alert which was recently launched by the Angling Trust. It is a web-based communication tool that will provide anglers and the wider public with information on fisheries crime quickly – by text or email. Membership in the South-West has grown steadily with 95 people now signed. But we need hundreds and thousands of anglers across the South-West to sign up so that we can really impact on those who choose to break the law. We will also be using Angling Alert to circulate important information to anglers – such as when fish disease is found. You can join here:
The sign up page for Angling Alert
So reading this what can you do? Stop joining in anecdotal stories in your local tackle shop at club meetings or elsewhere – challenge people to report what they seen and/or have heard. Now you have no excuse – please support what we are doing for YOU! If you see or hear about illegal fishing – report it. Sign up to Angling Alert and consider applying to join the Voluntary Bailiff Service. We would love to see you involved.
Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Manager for South West Region