John Bailey: Unveiling Fish In Need

John Bailey with a barbel

A wonder barbel - fish need to be recognised for the beauties they are - Credit: John Bailey

I speak for anglers when I say that the objects of our passion are grievously overlooked by the vast majority of those who operate in the world of natural history and conservation and by nature lovers in general.

Birds, mammals, amphibians all attract the attention that fish sorely lack. In the conservation arena, the bat, the slow worm, the newt and everything else is there to be saved providing it does not have fins.

I have worked with the great and the good at the BBC Natural History Unit in my time and even the great and the good there would not be able to tell you the difference between the rudd and the roach. In an era when nothing and nobody must be discriminated against, that doctrine does not apply to creatures with scales.

We still live with the 'fishism' of old and we anglers still have to fight for the recognition for the fish we love, knowing the conservationists will always put the water vole above the barbel, the otter above the carp. In my lifetime, the only species of fish ever to grab an iota of national attention is that old drama queen, the salmon and species with a less exalted life style might just as well not exist at all.

This is galling because you and I know that fish are an integral part of the natural world that we love. This century we have seen lakes where all fish stocks have been destroyed and the result is an environment where there is barely any life at all. Kingfishers, grebes and herons must depart and look for food elsewhere. The gravels cloak with weed, fly life soon deteriorates and we look in vain for swifts, swallows, terns and martins.

This situation is doubly galling because as you and I know again, fish have never been more in need than they are today. For sure, in the 19th century fish stocks in industrial regions had a tough time, but the majority of the UK’s rivers and lakes prospered as before. In 2021, the dangers are nationwide. Abstraction, unchecked predation and pollution from a score of sources is threatening every water course we have - and only anglers care. In a recent survey, 70pc of householders rated good broadband as more important than a healthy water supply. This is the depth of ignorance and apathy that we are faced with.

But it’s no use simply bellyaching about this because changing the views of the British public is akin to steering the Titanic around its iceberg. I’ve mentioned before the sterling work of the Wild Trout Trust and individuals in Norfolk like Terry Lawton, Robin Combe, Charles Rangely-Wilson and Nick Zoll in looking after fish with adipose fins, men who haven’t just given up and let their rivers die.

Crucian carp

The wonder of crucian carp - Credit: John Bailey

But my personal hero has always been Professor Carl Sayer of University College London and a farm up in Bodham! He is the man , with his team of course, who has brought the humble crucian carp back to Norfolk through the mix of science and hard graft both. Team Carl has this century renovated scores of potential crucian ponds, sourced pure crucian populations, bred fingerlings and stocked them into the waters prepared for them. Bingo. A brainwave that has pretty much saved a species in these parts. Talk about Fish In Need and you don’t need to look further than the crucian in Norfolk 30 years ago.

So, right, to Fish In Need itself. We have just heard that this has been accepted by the Charity Commission and that is great news. I’m on the board of trustees which is made up of ardent fish lovers and all of us with a talent or two, myself probably excepted from that. The aim is simple. We will raise money in a variety of ways and then distribute it in a series of grants and bursaries to anyone who has a well thought out plan about how they can benefit fish in a very definite way.

We will look at ideas from clubs, syndicates, individuals and even riparian owners, providing the scheme is done for the good of fish, not for profit. I’m proud to say that the renowned Dr Mark Everard, Associate Professor of Ecosystems , University of West England, will be helping us evaluate all the applications that come our way so that they will have to be good to get the money.

There will be no bias against game fish whatsoever although, as I have said, trout, especially, do have a number of people looking after them already. So we appeal to those, like Carl, who see coarse species in need, like river roach, or wild carp or rudd pretty much everywhere in the country. If we can help bring dace back to Lincolnshire or barbel back to Norfolk, then we’ll be on to any plan that offers real hope and solid promise. We’ll also try to raise the profile of these wonderful creatures called fish. If more people begin to realise what stars they are, then, who knows, water over broadband might be the new rallying cry?

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We hope to get our website up and running just as soon as possible. This is a charity, 100pc. We are all volunteers, working for absolutely nothing, so please bear with us if we seem to be acting slowly. We will get there and perhaps some of you might already have an idea to bring to us. How about it, you guys at Wensum Anglers Conservation Association?  There’s nothing FIN would like more than to help you bring back a river brimming with roach! Or are you a farmer with an overgrown pond you would like to renovate? Perhaps we might help with that and then, when the time is ripe, release rudd there?

We know this will not be easy. Money has to be found. Fish friendly schemes must be practical. EA guidelines must be followed. Work has to be monitored and results have to be evaluated, but you don’t get anywhere if you don’t try. Time will tell and once we get established I’d love to hear from you with a cracker of a plan... or even with an offering of cash that I promise you will not be wasted, not a single penny of it. I really mean this: thank you for reading!