As lovers of wildlife and the outdoors, nobody wants to see nature thriving more than anglers. Not only do beautiful, rich environments make fishing a pleasure, they also mean healthy and resilient fish populations.
Just by buying a rod licence and supporting the Angling Trust, you are helping to safeguard and improve freshwater habitats. However, many angling clubs and fisheries go further still, taking measures to help nature of all kinds, from native plants to the bug life that is the foundation of the entire food chain. Here are eleven ways any angler, club or fishery can do their bit.
1. Give them some cover
Besides open areas for fishing, wildlife and the fish themselves thrive on areas of natural cover. These places not only help support natural food for fish, but give fish of all sizes spawning areas and cover from predators.
There are many ways you can boost this natural shelter, even on the most manmade of lakes. Planting native water plants is the best way to ensure that your lake has structure and cover for both fish and the invertebrate life that fish eat. Another really simple example is to fasten in place some nice woody cover; this can be fashioned from various branches such as willow and is often completely free! By staking this securely in place, you can create havens for fry and the bug life loved by birds and bats as well as fish!
*Do remember you will need both landowner permission and Environment Agency permission to do work like in rivers and fisheries.
2. Leave it wild
Ideally, fisheries should represent a balance between access and natural features. So, while anglers will want accessible pegs and clear spaces, it’s vital to leave a proportion of vegetation and shelter as well. Creating areas where fish and wildlife can thrive with no interference is a great idea on this front.
With a little thought, there can be space for fishing and nature alike. Fish, birds, aquatic insects and other animals love overgrown corners, while anglers love seeing wildlife.
3. Give birds and bats a helping hand
Besides giving nesting birds plenty of space in the spring months, another great idea is to leave as many trees in place as possible and to put up bat and bird boxes. These are easily constructed- and are a brilliant advert for angling! They are also a great visual reminder that trees are precious and should be protected on river and canal banks.
Some clubs, such as Tunbridge Wells AS, have made a huge success from this, proudly stamping each box with their club logo. This provides a brilliantly clear and positive statement that anglers love nature and are working to create environments where birds, bats and all wild creatures are cherished. You can read more about the club’s efforts in special blog post.
4. Spawn your own success story
If you want to see more fish in our rivers and lakes, one solution stands out a mile; provide better places for them to spawn and their young to thrive! On rivers, this could mean putting in new gravel areas, so that fish like barbel, chub and trout have the ideal medium to lay their eggs.
Meanwhile, vegetation and woody debris can help young fish evade predation. This needn’t be expensive, and some angling clubs have even used the likes of old Christmas trees, pinned in place, to give fry a home. Again, please remember that it’s important to speak to your local Environment Agency Fisheries Officer before carrying out any in-river work. They will be able to help and advice you and outline any permits that are required before the work is undertaken.
5. Give fish species under threat a helping hand
Several UK native fish species are under threat or are facing declines in numbers, including the Atlantic salmon, crucians, and even tench and wild brown trout. Thankfully there are various projects under way to try help solve the problems these species face. Why not consider getting involved yourself ?
Getting hands-on with project work and knowing that you are doing your bit can be a real buzz and you will almost certainly learn more about our wonderful fish species into the bargain. Here are just a few organisations and websites to take a look at that regularly work with volunteers.
6. Root out invasives
Another big current threat to wildlife, and indeed fisheries, all over the country is Non Native Invasive Species (NNIS). Plants and animals such as Himalayan Balsam and signal crayfish not only multiply quickly, but can push out native species ill-equipped to compete with them.
The first thing every club, fishery and angler can do is to adopt an ounce of prevention. This means following the simple CHECK, CLEAN, DRY formula every time we fish and taking extra care when travelling between fisheries.
However, in the case of other species, we can also use a bit of legwork and elbow grease to help! Himalayan Balsam is a point in case; why not organise a semi-regular “balsam bashing” expedition, or simply get your regulars to remove a few bits when they fish? For further guidance on the issue of NNIS, check out our Invasive Species pages on the Angling Trust Website.
7. A bug’s life
So often overlooked in the health of our fisheries, the tiny creatures at the bottom of the foodchain are critical to sustaining other creatures and fish in particular.
Bugs are also a key part of monitoring the health of waters these days and can be a key indicator. Which is why more and more clubs are getting their feet and hands wet to study what life is present on our lakes, rivers and streams. Nor is this just for game fish, because creatures like mayflies and freshwater shrimp are just as important for the likes of chub, barbel and rudd.
One great route to do just this- and also educate anglers of all ages in a fun manner- is to get involved in a fly sampling project such as Salmon and Trout Conservation’s “Smart Rivers” scheme. It’s not only a great way to check the health of a fishery, but fun and informative for the anglers!
8. Educate the next generation
The best long term policy for nature extends not mere years, but decades into the future- and this means involving youngsters. If your club or fishery has junior sessions, why not incorporate some simple lessons on the natural world?
Very often this happens of its own accord whenever coaches work with kids. But we can make it an even bigger part of angling by making it literally par for the course. From pond dipping to identifying birds and other animals that love water, we can all help light that spark that will protect wildlife for years to come.
9. Plant trees!
It’s a sad fact that England is one of the most deforested countries in Europe. But we are already fighting back as a nation, and there are funding pots out there to help plant millions of new trees!
Anglers can be a big part of this. After all, fisheries need natural cover- and trees not only provide shelter for fish but boost natural food levels with fly life. Furthermore, these days there are various projects and funding pots to apply for – and angling clubs and fisheries are often highly suitable candidates (the Woodland Trust is a good starting point for advice and info).
10. Wage war on litter
Litter not only impacts the natural beauty of any fishery, but can have an extremely negative impact on wildlife. Whether it’s harmful plastics getting into the food chain, or discarded fishing line snaring birds, the vast majority of us hate to see it.
Thankfully, there are obvious solutions if we can only work together. Does your club have rules on litter, for example? Whether it’s only weighing in competitors once pegs are free of litter, or getting on board with our “Take 5” campaign to spend just five minutes removing rubbish when you fish, we can all do our bit.
Of course, organised litter picks are also a great shout- and anglers can organise their own or indeed join others to help our waterways and show the world that we care. See our get involved section for more info and free resources. We would also encourage all anglers to support the brilliant Anglers’ National Line Recycling Scheme.
11. Get a helping hand from the Environment Agency and Angling Trust
Finally, another must for any angling club or fishery with big ideas for nature is to get to know your local Environment Agency staff. Their expertise can be priceless when it comes to improving any natural habitat and getting practical, cost effective ideas to get things going.
Angling Trust member clubs and fisheries can also get direct support from us in various ways. One is to get in touch with specialist staff such as our Fisheries Management Advisors (contact details HERE), who can help with expert advice on issues such as predation, spawning areas and much more. There are also a growing number of recorded presentations on subjects as diverse as “Small river habitat improvements” and “How to get funding for fishery improvements” all these can be found here on the Angling Trust website.
Finally, if you have a worthwhile plan to boost natural habitat it’s well worth looking for some support from fishing licence money via the Fisheries Improvement Program (FIP). These funds have been used to assist with a huge range of projects and organisations, helping to create healthy fisheries where nature and angling thrive hand in hand.
Further reading and current campaigns
We hope this blog has given you some food for thought, whether you are a club member, a fishery worker or just a single angler. The overall message is that if we all do our bit, angling can be a huge force for good when it comes to enhancing and protecting nature and aquatic habitats.
To find out more about our work and campaigning to protect rivers, lakes and inshore fisheries, don’t forget to keep an eye on our campaigns section and get involved page at anglingtrust.net