The VBS: An Inspirational Catalyst for Change & A Credit to the Angling Community
National Enforcement Manager Dilip Sarkar MBE looks at the amazing success story that is the Voluntary Bailiff Service
Having been a lifelong angler, after leaving West Mercia Police and taking over the lease of a fishery on the Severn at Worcester, my eyes were opened to the confusion over offences, responsibilities and general lack of wider awareness concerning fisheries crime – which is not, as I always say, just about ‘a few fish’ but – as all crime is – connected to an infinitely bigger picture. Historically, owing to this sad state of affairs, anglers and fishery owners were often impotent to deal with such things as fishing without permission and fish theft – both of which are actually criminal offences under the Theft Act 1968 and therefore the responsibility of the police. Having served in a large rural force bisected by prime rivers, and being an angler myself, this discovery astonished me – I should have known. And if I didn’t know, what hope was there that a non-angling police officer would have an earthly? So, I set out to change things. Effecting change is never easy, there are no short cuts or popularity prizes involved – but we have now reached a landmark moment in our journey. Let me explain…
Some years ago, original Angling Trust Chairman Mike Heylin OBE envisioned a service of anglers trained to be the Environment Agency’s ‘eyes and ears’, an angling Neighbourhood Watch-type set-up, if you like. A simple idea: anglers keeping careful watch on our precious fish and fisheries, reporting incidents and information to the EA – which, not having infinite resources, is not an emergency service and nor can it be expected to respond to every incoming report. Instead, in compliance with what is called the National Intelligence Model, the EA has to build up a picture of problem locations, times, dates and offenders, enabling fisheries enforcement officers to be deployed efficiently. Indeed, the police work in the same way, the NIM underpinning all effective modern enforcement today. So it was that the Phase 1 Voluntary Bailiff Service was created as a Pilot Project in the EA’s South East region in spring 2012. Six months’ later I was brought in to manage the project from the Angling Trust side of what was the start of a significant partnership. Little did any of us realise then that this small acorn would shine a bright spotlight on fisheries enforcement and fisheries related crime generally – providing the catalyst for unprecedented change….
From the outset the intention was to carefully vet and select Volunteer Bailiffs, providing training through induction days run by policing and fisheries enforcement professionals. Thus trained, VBs then joined an Area within the overall Region, each area run by a VB Area Coordinator. Rapidly it became clear that there was great interest in this approach throughout the angling community and no shortage of Expressions of Interest nationally. A secure website enabled patrols, results and volunteer time to be logged and quantified, and joint patrols with the EA and police provided opportunities for engagement. Concurrently with this activity on the ground, I was out there explaining to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, individual police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates’ Association that the problems we faced were actually Rural, Wildlife, Business and Organised Crime related – and sadly Hate Crime too, as a result of cultural differences with migrant anglers from central and eastern Europe. Moreover, my argument was that anglers – out there 24/7 x 365 – were a terrific source of intelligence in the fight against crime – if only awareness could be raised of the crucial need to report incidents and information and confidence increased so that those calls were made. For this reason, guides for anglers, clubs and fishery managers were produced, which were also shared with the police and made available online, and most importantly, together with Adrian Saunders of the Environment Agency (moving forward a local initiative started by the NW EA region) we started delivering Fisheries Enforcement Workshops to anglers, in partnership with the police, on a national basis.
In 2013, during our (now annual) close-season initiative Operation CLAMPDOWN, Voluntary Bailiffs in NW Thames Area famously discovered firearms hidden on a river bank – an early indicator of the links to wider crime. The following year, Adrian and I attended the UK Wildlife Crime Enforcers’ Conference for the first time, running two workshops on the Fisheries Enforcement Campaign, which were well-attended by police officers and other partners. As a result of this interest, working with PC Nick Willey, a Wildlife Crime Officer with Lincolnshire Police, in November 2014, we were able to launch Operation TRAVERSE, a Lincolnshire Police-led initiative targeting illegal fishing and fish theft. In June 2015, Operation LEVIATHAN followed, an identical initiative led by West Mercia Police and Wildlife Crime Officer PC Paul Lambon. Soon, the majority of forces in the eastern half of England were signed-up to TRAVERSE, along with the Cefas Fish Health Inspectorate (responsible for illegal fish movement, amongst other things), whilst all Welsh forces and most western English forces became LEVIATHAN partners. That year, I also spoke on the Fisheries Enforcement Campaign at the first National Poaching Conference, sponsored at hosted by JCB at Uttoxeter. Progress indeed.
In August 2015, the EA awarded the Angling Trust the National Angling Strategic Services Contract, included in which was the delivery of a vision: the Fisheries Enforcement Support Service. This involved recruiting six former police officers as Regional Enforcement Managers, responsible for setting up and running the VBS throughout England, and helping achieve greater support for the EA through liaising with the police and contributing to TRAVERSE and LEVIATHAN. Crucially, REMs could act as a ‘bridge’ between anglers, the EA and police, providing advice and help get things put right when mistakes were made or service fell short. REMs would also be responsible for organising and hosting FEWs on a national basis, annually, and generally providing advice and raising awareness. The visionary ‘Building Bridges’ Project, managed by Rado Papiewski, was absorbed into the FESS as part of our educational approach to prevention and integrating migrant anglers. The great thing, of course, is that all of this is funded by English freshwater coarse and non-migratory trout rod licence income.
The FESS went live on 1 November 2015, three years after I first started work for the Angling Trust on bringing about the necessary change. My personal role changed, however, so instead of having to continue personally fronting up things online and social media especially, I was able to step back, enabling the REMs to be the face of fisheries enforcement and the Angling Trust/EA Partnership on a regional basis. By spring 2016, VBS was live in all six English regions. With hundreds of VBs, we then had to bring Karen Sarkar, herself a VB and who had been an Angling Trust Key Volunteer for four years, aboard as our Administration & Support Officer (now Angling Trust National Volunteers Manager) to process applications, EOIs, support the organisation of VBS inductions and FEWs, and much else besides. Later, Karen’s contribution extended to extensively researching the legalities and ethics of volunteering, also looking at examples of Best Practice across other oganisations, ensuring that we could provide the best possible volunteering experience through the VBS. We also needed policies on Health & Safety, Risk Assessment and ensure compliance with GDPR, all of which took time.
Crucially, in January 2017, former West Mercia Detective Inspector Gary Thomas joined our team as our Intelligence Manager – which has proved to be a game-changer. Having set up formal Information Sharing Agreements with key partners, Gary has devised a secure and legally compliant system for us to capture, store and share incoming intelligence and reports from the VBS. This, of course, is based upon a police model, enabling intelligence to be shared by hyper-secure Criminal Justice System email with the police and EA.
So now we have 482 VBs throughout England, who to date in 2018 have contributed some 26,000 voluntary hours, 11,000 patrols, and reported in excess of 550 incidents for our empowered partners to translate into positive action. The absolutely crucial thing to understand about all of this is that this benefits the whole community and provides another entry point for tackling criminal behaviour – hence the very great interest and support from the police in particular.
A summary provided by our Intelligence Manager regarding the breadth of incidents reported by the VBS surprised even me: –
- Explosives used to kill fish.
- Vehicles reported used by wanted offenders in rural burglaries – arrested and given custodial sentences.
- Poachers with dogs illegally hunting deer and badgers reported – who had seriously assaulted a witness.
- Prevention of a bankside suicide attempt.
- Poachers using crossbows.
- Specific intelligence regarding an Organised Crime Gang leader and persistent poacher subject to a Proceeds of Crime Act Order.
- Recovery of stolen property.
- Illegal destruction of wildlife and habitat.
- Illegal falconry.
- Illegal shooting of deer and raptors.
All of this in addition to more obvious reports regarding fisheries offences!
So, from the VBS providing the catalyst for change, the ongoing commitment and dedication of our professional staff and – most importantly – our volunteers, has seen fisheries crime lifted to a much-better understood level, and our Partnership well-known and respected throughout the enforcement community.
These are just a few of the positive outcomes: –
- The angling community has been empowered to fight back against fisheries crime and support the EA and police in the process.
- Confidence has increased.
- Intelligence has increased.
- Awareness has been raised.
- Greater fear of detection achieved.
- Building Bridges an inspirational success leading to a reduction in offences and many positives.
- Clear multi-agency approach involving the EA, police, CPS and courts.
- More appropriate sentencing owing to the provision of Impact Statements by the FESS and work with the Magistrates’ Association.
And so it goes… on and on.
Suffice it to say it was a personal highpoint of the last six or seven years to be a keynote speaker at the recent 30th UK Wildlife Crime Enforcers’ Conference – an unprecedented platform to shout from the rooftops about this incredibly positive energy driven by angler power and achieved through everyone working together.
During the afternoon, our NE REM, Giles Evans, and Intelligence Manager, Gary Thomas, ran two well-attended workshops concerning the benefits of engaging with and training volunteers to report intelligence, again emphasising the wider benefits to the entire community.
The feedback received concerning our collective contribution has been unanimously positive – leading to even more police forces preparing to support TRAVERSE and LEVIATHAN.
This has, it must be said, been a far from easy journey, for a variety of reasons, but we have all achieved what many said was impossible, providing in the process a shining light of Best Practice and a model for the wider community to follow.
This can only be for the greater good of angling as whole.
So, as this NASS contract draws to a close, along with 2018, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of our volunteers and staff for their inspirational dedication and hard work. It is a privilege to work with all of you for the benefit of angling.
What of the future? Well, anything, it would seem, is possible…
Tight lines all – and a very happy Christmas and New Year!
Dilip Sarkar MBE
National Enforcement Manager
Fisheries Enforcement Support Service
Environment Agency & Angling Trust Partnership
For further information on fisheries enforcement, please see: –
The VBS anticipates recruiting again in 2019. Anyone interested in expressing interest should contact firstname.lastname@example.org