It’s been one of the best feel-good stories the angling world has seen for many years; and now project instigators Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price have produced a hardback book to chart their exploits. This month, our own blogger and angling writer Dom Garnett has taken a closer look at some of the huge, positive implications.
In an age peppered with cynicism and division, a story of hope and success is a truly precious thing. After all, mud-slinging and online arguments never solved anything. This is why the Avon Roach Project remains such a breath of fresh air.
Here we have practical, real-world action that has, quite literally, spawned a huge success story. And in their new book, roach fishing fanatics Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price have spilled the beans on every aspect of a remarkable process. And what an entertaining ride it proves to be!
What is the Avon Roach Project?
For those unfamiliar with the project itself, we should perhaps begin with a very quick overview. In a nutshell, the ARP was a mission started by two keen anglers who were alarmed at the decline of one of England’s most iconic freshwater fish on the Hampshire Avon. Faced with multiple challenges, from habitat deterioration to predation and poor fry recruitment, they decided to take direct action to boost numbers.
Perhaps the most novel and celebrated aspect of the project was the creation of ingenious roach spawning boards, which used strips from old fishing nets attached to wood, to give the fish a secure place to deposit eggs. These eggs could then be nurtured into broods of young fish, which could later be released back into the river with a much greater chance of survival.
The true story of the ARP is, of course, much more complex- and has also involved various other activities, particularly habitat improvements, such as restoring the side channels and backwaters so crucial to the survival of young fish. Such has been the success of the project, that it has spawned further “babies” in the form of similar initiatives all over the country! You can read more details and a regular blog from the project at www.avonroachproject.co.uk
From good intentions to action stations
While it’s hard to convey the sheer breadth of the project here, suffice to say the book is revealing on many levels. It’s to the authors’ credit that such a serious business is also a heck of a lot of fun. It’s their liberally-applied honesty and self-deprecating humour that lift this to a page-turning read rather than just a scientific study.
Indeed, every chapter has moments of genuine excitement and discovery. Having heard so much about the famous spawning boards, for example, you might think it was a formality to collect roach eggs. If only! The trial, error and anticipation are palpable at every stage.
I don’t want to throw in too many spoilers, then, but there are more twists and turns than you might imagine from a fishery project. From sponsored hi-jinx to raise funds, through to troubles with rogue predators and setting up backyard systems that would put a mad scientist to shame, it’s a rollercoaster ride.
Some of the discoveries are eye-opening to say the least. Whether it’s the incredibly specific timing of spawning each year, or the way roach managed to fill boards with spawn even in raging currents, there are quite a few “Eureka!” moments. No doubt there will also be useful lessons for future fish conservationists.
Rather than reiterate the whole story from scratch, however, I thought it might be more powerful to share five glaring, great big lessons I took from the new book. Indeed, beyond all the highs and lows, tanks of sploshing water and visits to various pie and sandwich shops, there are some huge signposts within the book’s pages for anyone considering pitching in to help their favourite fishery.
1. You don’t need to be an expert or scientist to improve a fishery!
Ok, so it might sound obvious. But so often many of us feel a little powerless or under-qualified to join in with conservation efforts. But in the case of Trevor and Budgie, we have two role models who, by their own admission are not scientists or experts- just two guys who were determined to ask questions and learn as they went.
Sometimes it goes wrong or a dead-end is reached- but with a bit of determination and by getting the right help, anyone can increase their knowledge and achieve something! This doesn’t mean anyone can just go it alone- but by being brave enough to ask for assistance and getting through to the right people, big leaps can be made.
2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get
Another wonderful lesson of the book is that, surprise surprise, most human beings are helpful by nature. Too often we assume that either our fellow anglers, fisheries experts or the authorities are not interested or lack the time or resources- when the opposite is the case!
The Avon Roach Project shows this surprising truth again and again. Whether it’s practical advice from the Environment Agency, access permission from riparian owners, donated equipment, or even getting a tackle shop employee to shave his hair off to raise funds, there is a lot to be said for asking for help and appealing to the wider community.
3.The snowball effect
Time and again with angling and community projects that I’ve reported on, there is a surprising knock-on effect from an initial act of goodwill. It’s amazing what can happen with just a measure of success, once others hear about a hopeful story and pitch in. If in doubt, please take a look at some of our other “Lines on the Water” posts on this blog! From the North East to the South West, there are some fantastic good news stories out there.
The ARP is another example of the way positive action tends to gather momentum- and one of the best parts of the book is the sense of something growing beyond all expectations. The message here is very simple- acts of goodwill not only add up to something bigger, but tend to “snowball”, bringing consequences and outcomes that can far surpass even the most optimistic early projections.
4. Getting involved needn’t be a chore- it can be a riot!
Another key message I took from the story of the project is that doing something positive needn’t be purely about struggle and sacrifice. It can be fun, exciting and infectious! The great humour and camaraderie of the book illustrate exactly this point.
Ok, so not every volunteer or club member reading this is going to create their own iconic river conservation project. But just getting out with like-minded anglers to do something worthwhile can be immensely rewarding. Whether it’s joining a working party on your local fishery, removing harmful litter or helping a child catch their first fish, these activities can be great fun and so much more than just “doing the right thing.”
So often, when speaking to volunteers, I get this very sense- that they made new friends, felt a part of something greater and got so much more from their fishing as a direct result.
5. There’s always hope- and with our help nature can fight back.
Last but not least, having read the book I don’t think many anglers could avoid feeling hopeful. Yes, we live in a world where nature and fisheries are under more pressure than ever. But despairing or ranting about predation, the authorities or, worse, actually having a go at those trying to help, is not going to solve anything.
So often, I wish we could come together as a sport to look at what is achievable in the world that we inhabit , rather than looking backwards or focussing on the impossible. Just by shifting the emphasis to what we might achieve, rather than what we cannot, is a huge step forward.
Perhaps this is the single biggest lesson of the Avon Roach project. Our dynamic duo could easily have just thrown up their arms and said “we won’t bother” – especially when confronted by challenges or naysayers. But there is almost always some action we can take, or another route around a problem.
Indeed, faced with grim evidence that fish were not spawning successfully, Trevor and Budgie didn’t decide to cry into their pint glasses and talk about the good old days, or start an almighty social media punchup. They rolled up their sleeves and looked at the possibilities. Instead of worrying they’d get it wrong, they got expert help on board and gave it a go.
Perhaps this is the single most powerful message of the book: hope is empowering. And if anglers can only put their differences aside and work together, the possibilities are exciting.
Buy the book… and do your bit for fish conservation
To get your signed copy of the Avon Roach Project book, take a look at the organisation’s online shop HERE. At 320 pages, along with some great photographs and illustrations, it’s one of the most detailed and engaging stories of angler-led conservation you could wish for! It comes especially recommended for any keen river angler or angling club member looking for inspiration on conserving their local water. The book is priced £25.
See www.avonroachprojectshop.co.uk for more details.
Support the Angling Trust and Fish Legal
Here at the Angling Trust we are also pushing harder than ever for healthier rivers and fisheries. Whether that means fighting back against threats like abstraction and pollution, campaigning to protect fish stocks, or working with the Environment Agency to make sure your rod licence money is used to maximum effect, we are determined to make a difference!
However, so much of what we do is entirely funded by individual memberships. Fish Legal, for example, has taken countless polluters to court over the past decade, winning hundreds of thousands of pounds to help angling clubs and restore rivers. Every one of these efforts has been directly supported by anglers like you.
Please join us today if you care about the future of fishing and see our get involved section to find out more about our current work and key campaigns. If you’re a new member, you can also get some fantastic free gifts in the process!