February 20 2012
If winter is often the season for fly-tying, reading and the occasional foray onto the water in search of a single trophy fish, it’s also the time for river restorationists to meet and share last year’s learnings and next year’s plans.
Recently, I’ve attended two separate policy events that promise to make a real difference to the future of fishing in London and further afield.
The first was a parliamentary reception at Portcullis House on January 31 – you could almost have called it a low-key, very British sort of rally – to promote the idea of the Thames Tunnel, a 7m-diameter “super sewer” bored under the bed of the river to stop the capital’s defining waterway from being polluted by overflowing Victorian sewers every time 2mm of rain falls on west London.
Hosted by Zac Goldsmith MP, more than 150 anglers, rowers and conservationists listened to a range of speakers, from the CEO of Thames Water to Olympic rower Roz Savage and even the great-grandson of the visionary civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette himself, and came away reassured of the public and political will behind this massive but vital infrastructure project. True, the giant drill bits won’t have finished their job until around 2023, but almost any plan to keep 39m tonnes of raw sewage out of the Thames every year (and vindicate the river’s victory in 2010’s Thiess International Riverprize, as well as save us all from being fined by the EU) has to be a good one.
Home with the owl, up with the lark – and next morning saw me on the south bank of the Thames for the launch of Fishing for Answers, a major new report on the social and community benefits of angling. As a sport, angling has often been misunderstood: stalking fish doesn’t fit neatly into the medics’ recommended weekly 3x 30 minutes of exercise, and economists have always struggled to quantify the financial benefits of angling tourism. But this study looks set to change all that.
After three years of work by the Substance social research team, the final report covers six key areas of insight, from health and wellbeing to volunteering and the natural environment. It surveys more than 2,400 anglers, 245 angling organisations and 54 youth projects, taking in a landscape that reaches from the urban banks of the Wandle (pictured) to marginal tourist-dependent communities in the wild hills of Assynt. The result is a truly ground-breaking document, full of real numbers that should help to inform policy-makers far into the future, proving angling’s £3bn-plus contribution to the economy and the myriad other ways that Isaac Walton’s “calm, quiet, innocent recreation” can help to make a better world for everyone to live in.
Maybe best of all, the whole (very digestible) Fishing for Answers report and its supporting data are freely available on the internet: another big win for transparent sharing of knowledge. If you’ve ever wondered what angling can do for you, you may even owe it to yourself and your community to check it out...