Breckland arable farmer goes into the fishing business

Arable farmer Ian Monson has diversified into the fishing business on the family's Breckland farm in west Norfolk.

He has dug out two dedicated fishing lakes on a five-acre site on Church Farm, next to the River Gadder, in Oxborough, near Swaffham.

The construction phase of the project has been completed and the lakes have been excavated, said Mr Monson, who represents the Brecks division and is vice-chairman of Norfolk County Council.

'There're dug and looking very good. We've got all the pegs built and I've just finished laying the car park access road.'

He has planted grass seed around the fishing lakes, which were created by digging out about 40,000 tonnes of soil comprising sand, gravel and skirty peat.

'We have a 14-acre field next door and we stripped the top soil off with a bulldozer down to about 18 inches and then heaped it up in each end in two massive great piles.

'All the soil that came out of the fishing lakes was landscaped and then the top soil was put back. The net result is that the field is about one metre higher. You don't notice and it looks just the field used to be,' said Mr Monson.

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It took seven years of planning to create the Oxborough fishing enterprise and the contractors, William Morfoot, of Shipdham, near Dereham, started in April and completed the work within three months.

But because it has been so dry in the early part of the spring, the lakes were only about two-thirds of capacity, said Mr Monson, who has been advised to wait for cooler weather in September and October before introducing the ordered stocks of fish. 'It is not good to move fish in these higher temperatures. I've already had a number of people asking to fish but you won't find any fish yet,' he added.

He had also just been building an otter fence to protect the lakes, which was a further capital cost for the business. He has run the 910-acre all arable farm with milling wheat, malting barley, sugar beet and oilseed rape for the past 30 years alongside his son, John and one full-time member of staff.

But while the lakes are taking shape, harvest has been at a stop. 'It is a disaster at the moment and our crops look terrible. We sprayed the oilseed rape off about a week ago and it just won't dry out. I'm hoping that this weekend brings some drier weather.'

The lakes are alongside an established area of woodland and will be stocked with a range of coarse fish including roach and perch at a density of 400 to 500lb per acre of water for the ordinary lake. An adjoining competition lake will have a density of around 700-800lb per acre of water.

The larger of the two lakes will provide 15 fishing pegs for catch and release fishing with the second lake constructed for match fishing and providing 16 pegs. The project will also create two part-time jobs.

Oxborough Farms has also received a grant from EEDA. Mr Monson said: 'This is an exciting project which has taken seven years of planning. I am certain it will enhance and encourage local tourism and enrich the diversity of the natural environment.

'Without the financial help we have received from Barclays and the Rural Development Programme for England, this project would not have been going ahead.'

Gerald Day, who is based at the bank's Wymondham branch, said: 'Diversification projects can often be a vital part of modern day farming. As a Barclays agricultural manager, I understand their importance and it has been a pleasure to help my customer with funding for this project which has turned a dream into a reality.'