John Bailey: Getting the message across loud and clear

John Bailey at his workplace - the river. getting into the water helps understand what goes on ther

John Bailey at his workplace - the river. getting into the water helps understand what goes on there. - Credit: Archant

I hope you will bear with me for yet another week when I talk more about the politics of the sport than the actuality of doing it. To be quite honest, as I write, this north-easterly is still blowing and whilst the sun might be out fitfully, water temperatures are painfully low.

With the rivers out, I'd have to be something of a masochist to want to try for my beloved tench yet, so I'm just going to sit it out. There's plenty to do, though, on the river and lake restoration front so I might be hanging up my rods, but I'll certainly be donning my chesties.

This is really where I'm coming from this week. How do we as anglers get across to the general public the good stuff that we do? How do we make it loud and clear that we enjoy our fishing life for more than we get out of it measured in simple catch rates? How do we convince people that, as anglers, we really understand the aquatic environment and we care about it, too?

I'd like to nail these questions around two specific instances. The first one is an article in our own, dearly beloved EDP. I'm talking about the weekend supplement for March 23-30th. The magazine featured a double spread on the return of the otters, its headline proclaiming, 'Otters Return and Now Our Rivers Are Whole Again.'

No doubt it made nice copy and entertained the general public, but for any anglers reading it, I guess they simply squirmed. Once again, I repeat this. I, like many millions of anglers, appreciate otters and enjoy watching them. It's simply that as an angler, I understand where otters exist within the present food chain in our area and nationwide. Otters have their place, but it must be a place within the natural scheme of things. Anglers know, whereas the general public don't, that an unlicensed, unlawful, unrestricted distribution of tame otters up and down our waterways spells disaster for fish, fowl and mammals alike. Otters are killing machines and if there aren't enough fish for them, then they'll eat pretty much anything they can catch. Anglers understand the whole concept of harmony and balance. There is only a very limited number of otters that any catchment area can sustain and if you go over this number, everything within that catchment area is going to suffer, including the starving, released otters themselves. Anglers know this whilst many conservationists choose to ignore it. We must be heard.

I'd like to refer to another specific case, a BBC 1 Countryfile piece on March 17. I dislike Countryfile. I find it sugary and condescending. Generally, lightweight presenters treat the public rather like overgrown children, and I'd like John Craven back.

The Countryfile piece that really riled me, however, was one on the question of flood plains. Several so-called experts complained about our rivers reverting to their natural state. They demanded that rivers should be 'properly' dredged again, like they were in the calamitous 1970s and 1980s.

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It seems to me that flood plains have long been called flood plains because they flood. That was one of the purposes of flood plains for centuries. They were not meant to be built upon, but to take excess water throughout the winter and provide lush grazing come the spring and summer.

As anglers, we know the horrors that deep dredging inflicts upon the river environment. Deep dredging, ignored by this Countryfile piece, totally destroys the rivers that we have enjoyed since well before Constable's day. The deep dredged river isn't only a disaster for fish and fishermen, but for almost every other type of wildlife that uses that river, otters included.

Once again, though, the general public is being treated like a class of uninformed kids and the knowledge we anglers have built up over our lifetimes is being totally disregarded. I worry that perhaps I have become a ranting oldie so I checked with three much younger friends at the Environment Agency and I can report back that they were equally dismayed. They and many others, have worked hard since the 1990s to restore our rivers to some level of natural harmony and they, like me, don't want to see the guts of our rivers ripped out and laid waste again.

Anglers like me and you enjoy catching fish, that's true. However, no one understands water in the same way that you and I as anglers, do. We are not mean, selfish catching machines. We care passionately about the aquatic environment at every level and we understand it through and through. We deserve to be treated seriously and we deserve to be consulted. We can't be duped because we have years of experience built up on the waterside itself. Somehow, we have to get this message across that, as anglers, we are very much guardians of the stream.

Hopefully, one day, the winds will come again from the south and the west and I'll be able to get fishing again. Won't it be a relief to put away the soapbox.

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