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The Projects - Bourne Valley Park 2003-2007

 The Projects

 Bourne Valley Park

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Urban Fisheries

Possibilities to Enhance Biodiversity, Fisheries and Fishing Opportunities

Dr Alan Butterworth is Fisheries Development Manager for the Environment Agency. 

He writes ...

Angling is probably the most popular participant sport, and is recognised by the government as a healthy form of outdoor recreation that is widely available to all sectors of society. It can be a simple leisure pastime, as part of a group or club or as an intensively competitive sport – England are the most successful nation on the world scene at both individual and team level. 

Angling can contribute to social inclusion, particularly to disadvantaged and hard-to-reach groups, promote environmental awareness and deliver sustained reductions in crime and antisocial behaviour among young people. A national “Get Hooked on Fishing” scheme, fully supported by the police, specifically targets young people at risk of offending and has achieved:

  • zero offending

  • 80% reduction in truancy

  • increased literacy and general education performance.


Published in Times Online 5 July 2005
by Brian Clarke, Fishing Correspondent

ANGLING is an extraordinary sport. It needs no special strength or fitness to do it well. It can be practised from childhood into extreme old age. It can be pursued as readily alone as it can be with companions.

Angling is also — if you happen to be a non-achieving youngster in a run-down area, bored and seeking thrills — a sport that can take you off the streets and yet offer excitement, that can give a sense of achievement without cramming and exams. Uniquely among the participant sports, angling is characterised by long, still moments that can draw a person down into himself and give time to reflect.

All this is well known to enthusiasts. Now others are catching on and wanting to exploit it, politicians included.  Last year, the Government made a little-noticed but important change to the Environment Agency’s (EA) remit. Up to then the EA had been required to “maintain, improve and develop freshwater fisheries”. Now the agency has been told that it must also “enhance the social contribution fishing makes as a widely available and healthy form of recreation”.

The EA has responded with a consultation process designed to help angling to develop over the next decade. A key aim is to get many more people into the sport — initially 100,000 more by the end of 2007. Young people are to be a special target because, the EA says, angling “can demonstrably reduce truancy, antisocial behaviour and offending and increase self-esteem among young people, so helping them to do better at school”.

Mick Watson, a Durham County police constable, is one who has shown how. Watson, who has won the Queen’s Police Medal for his youth work, says that angling’s combination of ready accessibility and long, reflective periods is ideally suited to engaging youngsters and steering them away from crime. “Trying to get a young lad headed for trouble to stop and think is one of the hardest things to do,” he said, “but time to reflect is part and parcel of angling. It comes with the rod and reel.”

Watson is nearing the end of a three-year secondment from his force with a view to winning permanent funding for the scheme that he launched in 2000.

“Get Hooked on Fishing” targets socially excluded young people aged 10 to 16, 75 per cent of whom have been referred by crime prevention agencies as being at risk of offending. Participation is voluntary and there are only two rules: that the participants must neither offend nor be truant while on the scheme.

There is advice from professionals on sex and drugs, but the rest of participants’ time is spent with problem-free, keen, young anglers of their own ages, learning about fish and tackle, tactics and the environment. As interest grows, new relationships are formed both on the bankside and away from it.

“No one talks down to the participants and they are treated with respect,” Watson said. “Catching the first fish is a turning point — it can be life-changing. For plenty of kids, catching a fish is the first success they’ve had at anything. It gives them a sense of achievement they’ve never had. It gives them recognition. Then they want more.”

Of the 660 youngsters who have been through Watson’s programme, 98 per cent are still fishing and not one has offended.

Truancy is down 75 per cent and academic standards have risen. Of the 12 peer group leaders Watson has recruited from each year’s intake to help to carry the scheme forward, not one of school leaving age is unemployed and several have gone on to higher education.

Watson’s may be the highest-profile of such schemes, but it is not the only one or even the longest established. Similar projects have been launched in Stoke-on-Trent, Lincoln, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, in Forfar and Arbroath in Scotland and Conwyn in Wales. In Birmingham last year, an angling project that mixes potential young offenders and the victims of crime, run through the Bourneville Village Trust, won a special prize in the city’s Lifelong Learning Awards scheme.

Of course, the numbers that can be taken on are small in the context of the need. But every scheme mentioned here is hanging on by its rod-tips, mostly rich in volunteers but desperate for cash. It may seem perverse that we spend more than £100,000 a year to keep only one young offender locked up when Mick Watson can keep 150 out of trouble for a year on £50,000 all-in.

But that is the way it is and a costly lesson is in the learning: spare the rod and spoil the child.

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