This is the story of the members from a small, local angling club who proved what can be achieved through unrelenting determination, astute planning and the consequent support of angling’s development agencies.
Anyone who has ever undertaken the challenge to build an ornamental pond in their back garden, will know it’s not a job for the faint of heart. Even the shortcut of using a pre-shaped liner has probably failed to convince many would-be Capability Browns that they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew.
If you fall into the above category, you’ll fully understand the challenge that confronted Sutton Coldfield Angling Society (SCAS) near Birmingham when they decided to dig a rather larger hole in the ground and put fish in it. If you don’t, you’ll soon get the idea….
Before a spade, casual welly boot or even a digger got anywhere close to productive use, there were several knock-backs that may have persuaded many clubs to sit down, shut up and carry on with what they’d got. The motivation for SCAS was that their need was triggered by a change of ownership to land holding two lakes they had leased, stocked and maintained for over 40 years.
When a new lease was refused, SCAS began a search for existing alternatives. The club already held a good selection of still waters and river stretches but the lost lease reduced diversity and such an outcome wasn’t desirable. At one point, the procurement of a 9-acre site was taken through some costly planning and survey processes before a highways issue forced them to walk away with nothing to show for their efforts or their money.
Despite the setback, they continued their search and after several fruitless attempts to find their new venue, SCAS made an offer to purchase boggy land on the site of an existing local fishery. It was a site they’d tried unsuccessfully to purchase several years before.
The second attempt met with the same result, except this time, the landowner returned with an alternative proposal.
SCAS President, Don Jones takes up the story: “The landowner offered to create a lake and a car park on the land himself and then rent it to us for our exclusive use. He was prepared to create it largely to our specification so it was a great opportunity.”
Leasing at an existing fishery meant the negotiations were lengthy and tough but agreement was finally in place for essential elements including members’ access rights, a legally binding and lengthy initial lease period and importantly, retained ownership of the existing fish stocks in the event of cessation.
Input from the Environment Agency was crucial. Site visits by agency Fishery Officers and information gained by the club from their own visits to Calverton Fish Farm in Nottinghamshire, added expert detail to the original plan. As a consequence of the input, the hole in the ground was transformed into a healthy and sustainable natural environment.
Don said: “Based on the advice we received, we incorporated a marginal shelf 4ft below the water level to allow for good marginal plant coverage and fishing platforms. We incorporated a shallow area for the planting of lilies to create a warmer area for spawning and fry protection. We also made sure there were deeper areas to provide good winter survival areas for the fish.”
Then came a small bonus. As the dig progressed, the landowner needed spoil for another project on site. So the lake became bigger than had been anticipated with a greater average depth and greater depth at both ends. Overall, it offered an unexpected improvement on the original plans.
Structural works were then supported by strategic planting pf aquatics such as Iris and Norfolk Reed. 3 tonnes of assorted seed were acquired and hand spread on the bottom and sides of the newly created but still empty lake. It would be allowed to germinate before the lake saw any pumped water and this created good habitat, general cover and an indirect source of food for the initial fish stock when it arrived. The members had decided the stocking would be silver fish only.
As a previously unused piece of land, the newly created facility needed the addition of safe lakeside access for club members including those with mobility aids. The club’s plan provided for this too and SCAS made a successful application for grant funding.
The cost of materials was acquired from the fund and to ensure completion and compliance with the grant’s requirement, the club provided matched funding with its own labour. The result was a creation that used railway sleepers to create a flat-stoned path adjacent to the car park and around the steepest side and hence, access for all.
The result was pleasing and in the years that followed, the lake matured, was regularly stocked and quickly became a firm favourite with the members.
Then came the club’s next body blow. 15 years after its completion and, as had happened previously, circumstances beyond the control of SCAS meant the lake was passed back to the landowner.
“The lake matured beautifully but unfortunately we were given notice to quit,” said Don. “As per the lease the fish remained our property, so a value was eventually negotiated and we were forced to move out. Fortunately, a 9-acre lake not too far away became available so we decided to get our hands dirty again!”
The new lake was already fully mature but it required major rehabilitation. It held a head of pike and perch but little else and while perhaps deflated by recent experience, SCAS remained undaunted by the challenge ahead and rolled out another action plan which again involved input from the Environment Agency.
Water quality checks were completed and a programme of water management was activated after dangerous variations in day/night pH and oxygen levels were identified. Marginal planting was recommended as was the felling of some bank side trees. Club members mucked in to create fish refuges from field fencing and debris netting to help protect fish from a cormorant problem and this was supported by the installation of gaudily dressed scarecrows and dummies, as recommended by the Angling Trust’s Fisheries Management Advisors. There was also input and practical help from the landowner with the strategic removal of bankside trees and vegetation.
The EA added to the improvement programme with aquatic planting and two fully planted floating islands to assist with further fish refuge options and to locally reduce the weed growth. It remains a project in its infancy but whatever the future holds, the pathway SCAS and its members have taken remains an object lesson in ‘small club, big ideas, unrestricted ambition.’
“People might say we’re mad to indulge two such mammoth projects within one generation and perhaps they’d be right,” Said Don. “But circumstances dictated that we either confronted the challenges or risked the club losing its local reputation for a varied offering for the members. “Experience has taught us that outright purchase is the best approach if you can manage it but at every step, we’ve enjoyed guidance and expertise from national organisations that has helped our little local club through it all. When we’ve needed them, the Environment Agency and their selection of experts have always offered assistance and my message to any other club would always be; ‘if we can do it, anyone can’. But whatever you do, don’t under-estimate the challenge!”