You’ve been in the job nearly a year, what were your initial thoughts of how the Trust was being run before and after you took over? (not Covid).
The Trust had done some really positive things over the past decade and what immediately occurred to me was that we can do more to educate and inform anglers of the brilliant work being done behind the scenes. There were some largely unfounded rumours and outdated pre-conceptions which needed to be addressed and I hope we are starting to do this.
In your first spring in the job, the country was in total Covid lockdown, how did you and the Trust cope with that?
I hope that we did angling proud, offered decisive leadership and worked in the best interests of the sport to get angling recognised and participation in all forms of fishing back as swiftly and safely as possible. We have been commended by Sport England for how proactive we were in working with government departments and in terms of communication I think we offered clarity and transparency in a situation where rules, regulations and guidance have been changing at pace. We launched the new Fishing Buzz site which was a huge success to help anglers get their fix and played our part through the VBS and Building Bridges teams in addressing challenges of rural crime and protecting fisheries through this difficult period.
The Trust have been rightly and widely applauded for getting anglers back fishing again very early after lockdown, do you think there might be any national or local angling bans to try and stop the spread of Covid in the coming months and years?
Before the new three-tiered system was introduced I wrote to Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office making clear the need for individual, socially distanced outdoor pursuits to remain permitted and was pleased to see that the wording and clarity in the tier three guidance had evolved significantly from initial reports. Angling has proved it’s ability to be part of the solution and through the compliance of anglers and hard work of clubs and fisheries we can keep it that way. My team and I will continue to represent fishing at the highest level, will interpret government guidance and work to keep angling permitted under safe, best practice guidance.
Angling has boomed since it re-opened, do you think that trend will continue for the next few years?
I saw a graph when I took the job which showed a consistent growth in licence sales until the end of the previous decade, this was mirrored by a consistent fall across the past decade. This indicates that the demand for fishing and desire to go fishing has not evaporated but that barriers are stifling participation and we must identify and remove those barriers.
Promotion is key and we must continue to get angling recognised by the general public as a safe, enjoyable, wholesome activity for individuals or families to participate in. Angling is accessible, has a low cost of entry and can be practiced by almost anyone. It has huge benefits and my challenge for the sport is to help to promote fishing to a non-angling audience whilst ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to welcome and retain new and returning anglers. I see this as an objective we share with the trade and I have been encouraged by the willingness of all to work together under shared initiatives since I have been involved…we are clearly stronger together.
What are the biggest challenges (and aims) facing the Trust in the years ahead?
Increasing membership is the biggest challenge for the Trust – I’m grateful to all of the new members who joined us this year but we must do more to educate anglers on what Fish Legal and the Angling Trust do and why it is important. The challenge is convincing individual anglers to take that action and join so that we can have the influence a sport of our scale deserves and so badly needs. Your rod licence money does not go towards campaigning or fighting for fishing and groups like the RSPB are strong because individual members take action and join them…by being a member of a club that doesn’t make you an Angling Trust or Fish Legal member yourself – we are the best fishing has and to move the dial fishermen need to join…it works out at less than 60p per week to protect and promote YOUR sport, your membership will make a difference!
Could angling ever be banned (in the medium to long term) in the UK? (ie like fox hunting, either over whole UK or within any of the desolved countries etc).
As long as we have a strong, respected and effective national voice do not believe angling will be banned. I think we have robust arguments as to why our pastime is beneficial to individuals, communities and the economy. However, must ensure that our lobbying is not conducted on a shoestring otherwise we simply wont be able to compete with the anti-angling pressure groups. The Angling Trust and Fish Legal are here to protect fish and fishing but our campaigning function is funded by members and as a result more members gives us more ability to protect our right to fish…I hope we are not in a situation when anglers turn to us retrospectively to ask us to try and get fishing back rather than back us now to stand up and protect it.
Despite Covid, is being the Trust CEO a dream job for you being such a keen angler and supporter of angling?
Yes it is – I’m incredibly lucky to work in a field I am passionate about and have been welcomed with open arms by the community. I’ve worked harder and put in more hours in the past 8 months than I ever have previously but to be able to make a difference to something I truly believe in makes it worthwhile. I applied for the job because I felt angling needed strong representation and that the Angling Trust needed to reach out to general rank and file anglers like myself, explain what it does and convince them to get behind us – I’m pleased we have started to make progress but there is a huge amount of work to do.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the Trust and the future etc?
I would hope that over the coming years anglers will see greater visibility of me, my team and of the fantastic work both the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do. I’m particularly interested in working with competition anglers of all disciplines to build on this area. Alongside this I’m enjoying working with stakeholders in the sea fishing community and with the efforts we have made to ensure recreational sea fishing is recognised within the Fisheries bill I feel we have an opportunity to develop and grow in partnership with sea anglers to develop the discipline and equitable access.
Finally, I look forward to sharing more about the phenomenal work done by Fish Legal who are an enormous asset to all anglers and a sleeping giant…as an organisation formed from the roots of the ACA this work hold a special place to many of us and is something I feel all anglers should be proud to call themselves members of as we fight for fish and fishing and make polluters pay…never has this been more critical and as individuals you can make a real difference by joining.