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
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