As part of the #lockdownlitter campaign to raise awareness concerning the damage caused to wildlife by lost and discarded litter associated with this activity, we wrote to the leaders of the four Black country Local authorities, Dudley- councillor Patrick Harley, Sandwell- currently Councillor Maria Crompton, Walsall’s Councillor Mike Bird, and Councillor Ian Brookfield from Wolverhampton.
I have outlined the letter below, and inserted the pools where in my experience of rescuing birds for over 20 years, these continue to be the worst. I have also written to some local councillors whose wards cover these areas, as well as receiving the support of my MP Nicola Richards, which is most welcome. Some of these areas don’t have litter bins, so this would be a start in attempting to tackle the problem, but more is needed as issues of anti- social behaviour are what cause the problems.
I hope that the councils involved will respond positively with action, and I will publish the responses received.
Ref local authority control of angling and our lockdown litter campaign
We write to you as rescuers of wildlife, and with particular reference to wildfowl that are both resident and visitors to lakes under your council’s control. With experience of over fifty years of this voluntary work between us, we have seen many birds affected by litter associated with angling in this time, and the situation is unfortunately getting no better.
Throughout the lockdown and the current covid event, we have continued to rescue and take injured birds requiring help to rescue centres, and the time and expense of this has been funded out of our own pockets. Whereas the RSPCA have vast resources and finances to do their work, many people call us when they do not attend incidents, and this has certainly been the case in the last four months.
The main problems are angling related, which are entirely preventable and need to be tackled in partnership with your authority where it has management of the waterbodies to prevent suffering and injury to these wild birds.
Several years ago, The Environment Agency produced a “golden rules” for fishing leaflet, and then in 2003, The National Angling Alliance also constructed a code of conduct for angling. This was after a great deal of pressure and evidence compiled by The National Swan convention, (of which swanwatch was a regular contributor of data for records in The West Midlands area), which was presented to The Environment Agency, as regulators of angling. Between 1995-2001, a third of all rescue records for swans were attributable to angling related issues.
The Agency in conjunction with the NSC and the angling trades association then also produced a paper entitled “The impact of lost and discarded fishing line and tackle on mute swans Research and development technical record W1-051/TR, Perrins, Martin, Broughton”
It produced the following major observation in that it
“…highlighted the magnitude of the danger which angling poses for mute swans. Rescue groups and the RSPCA attend over 8,000 swans in trouble each year and it is estimated that approximately 3,000 are due to angling -related incidents, either directly hooked or entangled with fishing tackle.”
Fast forward to 2020, and the following piece reveals that the situation is only becoming grimmer as a recent Daily mail article shows, reporting RSPCA rescue statistics for the last five years.
“15,183 reports relating to animals injured by or caught in angling litter”.
NB these are just the RSPCA reports and do not cover the work of volunteer organisations who attend far more incidents than the RSPCA combined.
The main problem in our experience of sites, including ones that you are responsible for managing, is that free fishing, and night fishing, which attracts antisocial behaviour and the type of people who do not care what they leave behind correlates directly with increased incidents of birds being tackled. Relevant legislation such as The Environmental Protection Act may well be being employed in your town centres and even parks, but for some reason appears to escape those sitting around the waterside. Licences supposedly a legal requirement are seldom checked by anyone, and so the situation is left to deteriorate. It has to be asked as to why fishing is free, when you are losing money from this activity, yet other sports require payment, and some kind of rules, with threat of ejection or banning if people do not abide by them? Would football teams for example be allowed to continue to leave rubbish behind on the pitch, without the council taking action if they did so? Why should a few anglers be any different?
The antisocial behaviour is further compounded by the use of “bivvy’s”- or tents where individuals squat for sometimes days with alcohol and illegal drugs. They also conceal offensive weapons like axes and knives and cause criminal damage to aquatic vegetation, fences and trees. Illegal theft of fish and poaching is absolutely rife across the region, and fishing on pools not designated for fishing is also increasing, to the destruction of natural habitat and biodiversity. The areas left behind are festooned with plastic litter, and accented by line and hooks snagged up in trees and in the water. Why is this tolerated? If these were illegal traveller infringements, or someone went around dropping litter in a town centre, presumably action would be taken, so why are people allowed to camp out whilst breaking the law, and a blind eye is turned?
In Sandwell the main sites of concern are Sheepwash Nature Reserve, Hydes Road, West Smethwick Park , Victoria park Tipton and Warrens Hall Park. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.
In Dudley the main sites of concern are The Fens pool Nature Reserve pools, The Donkey Pool (Wrens Nest) and Parkes Hall Pool. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.
In Walsall the main sites of concern are Moorcroft Wood. This includes illegal fishing, illegal use of traps and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.
In Wolverhampton the main sites of concern are Rocket Pool and Ladymoor Road Pool. This includes illegal fishing, and several hooked birds. Evidence can be supplied.
The issue is that a new code of conduct is needed to cover all of the Black Country authority lakes.
An example of a set of rules which appears to work well at Walsall Arboretum is attached.
We have produced a new leaflet attached, which we consider to be the main golden rules and which could prevent birds being injured by angling litter. We hope that your authority will support this initiative and we can provide these to display in your site notice boards where fishing occurs. You will also hopefully engage with other authorities, ourselves, and legitimate angling organisations in the area to produce a new code. But this is not in itself enough, as it will require enforcement to succeed, and this will require resource implications. We realise that at this time, this may be difficult, but do realise that the third sector cannot continue to sustain the time, expense and vet bills associated with what is poor management of a single activity on waterbodies in your duty of care. We need to end free angling and evict those who are irresponsibly endangering our wildlife by leaving litter behind and not adhering to the rules.
Could you please address these concerns in a positive manner by a formal response, which we will publish in the public domain as part of our campaign to #lockdownlitter.
Regards Ian Carroll Swanwatch, Barry Sawbridge, Scared Animal Wildlife Rescue.