Anglers become anglers because they want to catch fish. It is only when that initial target has been achieved that they generally look beyond the keepnet and the unhooking mat. The beauty is, that when they do, the ‘intellectual properties’ associated with angling are almost endless and it is these elements that can benefit absolutely everyone.
Angling can take you into beautiful scenery. It can offer unparalleled levels of diversionary friendship or provide re-energising escapism. In short, it can soothe the mind.
Angling’s benefit as a conduit for wellbeing and positive mental health is well-documented in an anecdotal sense. But beneath the rhetoric from the street-wise, a slow but sure assembly of academic research is promising to scientifically confirm angling as a proven emotional stimulant.
Dr. Mark Wheeler is a Chartered Health Physcologist and a Trauma Specialist within the NHS who has conducted a PHD research paper into the benefits of angling. He is the joint founder of iCarp (Investigating Countryside & Angling Research Projects) and has worked closely with military veterans during a long and as yet, unfinished journey to measure angling’s true benefits from a medical perspective.
“The research started with some very small pilot studies and I looked at falconry, archery equestrian activities and angling,” said Dr. Wheeler. “All the activities worked and improved mental wellbeing, but angling worked to a greater degree. It had more of a benefit and more of an effect. It also held for slightly longer.”
The final, published research paper from this study shows that two identical experiments were conducted across small-sample random control groups involving military veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The team was looking for: “Clinically significant and reliable change in PTSD symptoms”. In Experiment One the paper confirms that: “60% made reliable improvement.” In Experiment Two with a different group, the figure was 67%.
Full details of the research and its findings can be found here. [https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0241763]
Dr. Wheeler is careful to point out that the early soundings were small-sample studies but the nature of these ‘pilots’ was that they provided enough evidence of potential benefit to prompt the commission of further investigation.
As a consequence, Dr. Wheeler is now working on a far more exhaustive project into the benefits of angling and other activities for health and wellbeing. This four-year project is funded by the research arm of the NHS and will continue until 2026 to ensure the technical data is far-reaching and scientifically robust.
“There’s a desire from the NHS for more proven research that will hopefully enable them to socially prescribe what we would term ‘green’ exercise. That’s basically outdoor activity which could be anything from angling to general walking, dog walking or just sitting in the open.
“In 2023, we’ll be broadening out the research and will be working with other groups including vulnerable young people in association with Essex Police, the NHS Community Mental Health team, refugees and asylum seekers and also early onset dementia groups including carers. So the broadening means that if we can prove it works across all these different patient groups then we must have something that has a benefit.
“With the military veterans, we feel we showed there was no doubt that what worked with them was the green exercises. Being outdoors and being near water was very tranquil and calming. A re-connection with nature was really important.”
No-one is claiming that angling alone has all the answers but its credibility as a genuinely beneficial pastime for its participants is clearly gathering pace. So, as the research continues, those involved in the Angling Trust’s own project ‘Get Fishing For Wellbeing’ are working closely with a number of partners, including iCarp to further the awareness of angling’s potential.
“As the National Governing Body for the sport, it was a natural fit for the Angling Trust to create a pathway in this area,” says Angling Development Manager, Dean Asplin who leads for the Trust on the project.
“Social Prescribing was a term we all began hearing about off the back of the pandemic and we felt we needed to lead on how angling might get involved in that process. As Angling’s NGB we have a degree of responsibility and a management duty and so the first stages of the ‘Get Fishing For Wellbeing’ programme are all about those elements.”
The Trust’s programme is in its infancy and will continue to develop in tandem with greater understanding and greater research. But at present, this is how it works.
“Social Prescribing comes from a link worker who is connected to a GP surgery,” says Dean. The link worker can suggest suitable alternatives to the usual level of medical intervention and potentially put people on a different path towards better mental health and wellbeing.
“In angling, there are many organisations out there who can offer a service but might not have suitable resources for a safe delivery mechanism. So we operate an Approved Partner programme which has minimum standards in place. We invite these organisations to come forward and go through a Safe Operator process which we then sign off. It means we can go back to link workers, who might not be anglers themselves and might not be aware of what angling can offer and tell them we’ve approved these partners.”
The Angling Trust’s project effectively provides a clearing house for good practice but is definitely not designed to tell organisations how to present their own services. “We don’t want to tell people how to deliver’” says Dean. “Our part in the process is to oversee those safe operator standards. That’s why we link in with the Social Prescribing Network because they offer so many other solutions for health and wellbeing. We just want to play our part and offer angling as a solution for many people.”
So angling is right in the middle of the discussion when it comes to social solutions around a health and wellbeing programme. Scientific research is slowly and, it seems, surely making a confirmed connection and in practical terms, tangible pathways and delivery standards are continually developing to allow the sport to make a difference. The difference appears to be clearer almost by the day.
The final word is from Dean. “The funny thing is, when I talk about this programme, I rarely talk about catching fish. When it comes to health and wellbeing, it’s all about angling providing an opportunity for being outside, being at one with nature and seeing sunrises and sunsets. Catching a fish is the cherry on the cake.”
If you would like to know more about the Angling Trust’s Get Fishing For Wellbeing programme and Partners, or are a service provider interested in attaining Approved Partner status, please follow the link for more information.
Alternatively, you can contact Dean Asplin at: