Money from nothin and they fish for free

I don’t think it should come as any surprise that I have no time for fishing. I have dealt first hand like many other rescuers of wildfowl with the aftermath of this activity and what could have been reasonably prevented. For the last twenty years myself and other rescuers in Sandwell have rescued many geese and swans across the West Midlands that have been tackled, caught up in line or have been suffering from lead poisoning. Though the source of this lead can be argued, the source of the tackle problem cannot. It comes from angling, FACT, no argument.

One should perhaps clarify that serious match anglers may well take their litter home , but casual floating day anglers are a different story.

There are some basic rules which the Environment Agency who govern rod fishing licences in the UK have published. You need a licence to fish, and this includes home made “rods” as well as professional apparatus. In addition to this you also need the permission of the land owner.

The Environment agency whilst promoting this “sport” have also in the past published a “golden rules” leaflet aimed at trying to reduce incidents of wildfowl becoming caught in tackle. It is difficult to gauge if this has had any real success, and historically  wildfowl/ angling make for awkward shared space conflict.

In March 2002, a large study undertaken in partnership with the Environment Agency , National swan convention  and the Angling trades association was published : “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.”

Also that year, Sandwell council announced that they were going to undertake “an angling policy”. At the time we were suspicious, as the officer in compiling this, as well as his boss and a prominent councillor  who had chaired The Leisure committee were all anglers. They also largely tried to dispute and refute incidents that we were reporting about the damage that fishing in Sandwell was causing. I was challenged to produce “evidence” by Councillor Geoff Lewis. Big mistake, for anyone who knows me.

A report looking at all areas where fishing was allowed in the borough, “An assessment of Sandwell Council’s fisheries management and its effects on wildlife and the environment” , together with recommendations was produced. We collected large amounts of tackle and fishing line from many sites across the borough and combined this with rescue statistics of birds that were injured as a direct result of angling activity- i.e that which could not be refuted.  As a matter of course, all of our rescue statistics were sent to The National Swan Convention ( an umbrella group for rescue organisations),  who collated figures for the Environment agency study and campaigning. The conclusions drawn from our report were

  • 1633 yards of fishing line was collected in just 9 months from Sandwell sites, with 1007 yards of it from Victoria Park Tipton alone!
  • multiple instances of illegal sized lead shot were collected as well as barbed and treble hooks which were supposedly “banned” on Sandwell’s pools
  • 36 birds had tackle related injuries, 14 of them pigeons
  • Little regulation and enforcement by Sandwell council with free fishing and alcohol consumption being rife
  • Fishing on non designated pools was occurring threatening wildfowl that shouldn’t have been

Above all it was noted that free fishing was a serious issue related to anti- social behaviour and litter issues and that this was a problem across Sandwell- because the council did not charge and allowed free unregulated fishing.


Discarded Line and fishing tackle from a Sandwell park

The angling policy in its first draft had to be  largely rewritten by the then parks facilities manager because it wasn’t up to scratch. Though he incorporated some of our recommendations into the policy, it was I am afraid to say a largely theoretical paper exercise. It is practice and enforcement which make the policy.

Fast forward to 2017 and it appears inevitable that I along with others are still engaged in catching birds affected by anglers. Below are a couple of examples from Sandwell this year, where free fishing continues to be allowed.







…and this was a fish someone had left behind.


Officially Sandwell council claim that people should pay for fishing on their pools, as with any other “sporting” activity, why shouldn’t they to use the facilities? The known truth however is somewhat different. This is what is claimed on their website.

“Sandwell Council issues tickets which allows fishing at the following pools:
Dartmouth Park, West Bromwich
Swan Pool, Sandwell Valley Country Park, West Bromwich
Sheepwash Nature Reserve, Tipton
Hydes Pool, Woden Road South, Wednesbury
West Smethwick Park, Smethwick
Victoria Park, Tipton.
Fishing Fees and Charges for Sandwell Pools
Type of ticket
Adult Season Ticket
Under 16s / Over 60s Season Ticket
Adult per day (maximum 2 rods)  
Under 16s / Over 60s per day (maximum 2 rods)
You can buy fishing season tickets from Sandwell Park Farm, please ask in the shop. Bring a passport size photo so we can issue you with your season ticket.”

A Freedom of information request has revealed that this theory is rather fishy to say the least. I asked

“Please provide information for the last 5 years period 1st April 2012- 1st April 2017.
(I) Number of adult season tickets sold for each year
(ii) Number of under 16s/over 60’s season tickets sold for each year
(iii)Number of adult day tickets sold for each year
(iv) Number of under 16’s/over 60s day tickets sold for each year

Please provide the total revenue earned by the council from fishing between 1st April 2012 -1st April 2017.”

The council answered in a rather messy way, but here are their official figures for each question.

(I) Number of adult season tickets sold for each year

2012 = 1

2013 = 0

2014 = 2 

2015 = 2

2016 = 0

2017 =3
(ii) Number of under 16s/over 60’s season tickets sold for each year

2012 = 0

2013 = 2

2014 = 0

2015 = 0

2016 = 0

2017 = 0
(iii)Number of adult day tickets sold for each year

2012 = 0

2013 = 0

2014 = 0

2015 = 0

2016 = 0

2017 = 0
(iv) Number of under 16’s/over 60s day tickets sold for each year

2012 = 0

2013 = 0

2014 = 0

2015 = 0

2016 = 0

2017 = 2

Please provide the total revenue earned by the council from fishing between 1st April 2012 -1st April 2017.”

The total  revenue is £303.


I think it is fairly obvious to draw some instant conclusions from these figures, these being

  • The council are making next to nothing from this activity, (£303 in five years),and one has to conclude with the costs associated with litter picking by council staff and volunteers and anti -social behaviour, this is not sustainable.
  • Some people have paid a fee to fish, whereas the majority have paid nothing.
  • There appears to be no charge for day ticket fishing (not a single ticket sold in five years!)
  • There cannot be any checks being made by anyone , rangers, street wardens or anyone else to enforce these charges.
  • People are fishing for free in Sandwell , and this appears to be endorsed by the lack of interest by the executive in enforcement procedures.
  • Anti-social behaviour is clearly linked to free fishing, not only nationally, (as expressed to senior EA fisheries officers that I have spoken to at  swan convention meetings ), but in Sandwell as well.
  • Litter is clearly linked to free fishing, and by association tackled birds affected by this.
  • These poor figures, and failure of the angling scheme impact on policy for Sandwell council including sustainability and  crime and disorder implications.

On top of this, where are Sandwell’s Street wardens being deployed when they visit parks? One hears stories of people being fined for their dogs bowel movements by this uniformed praetorian guard, and even famously how they were tasked with the suspect counting of Canada geese by the former parks manager which preceded their abhorrent murder. But why are they not being tasked to earn their money- i.e collecting and enforcing fishing fees (particulalrly day tickets, as well as netting any drinking going on in tents and bivvys?

I will look at the dire impact that Eastern European migration has had to this issue and poaching in a separate blog post. The Environment agency bailiffs appear conspicuous by their absence, despite publishing their rules as described at the link earlier in this post.

Unfortunately Sandwell’s angling policy recommended responsibility for its pools be doled out to “clubs” , yet the professional conduct of such “organisations” was found to be woefully inadequate in some locations , and a poor passing of a poisoned chalice to unprofessional ill equipped amateurs. The council need to take some care in their parks and open spaces.

We have witnessed illegal fishing, criminal damage by cutting down trees to create fishing spaces and drunken anti-social behaviour- as well of as course the ever linked litter with this activity. All of this is an issue of enforcement and stopping those responsible.

There is no economic argument for free fishing in Sandwell’s pools and open spaces to continue- especially when these sites are claimed to be being challenged by Government cuts. We have proven the effects and damage to wildlife and the environment that free fishing causes, and also with this FOI request how some people are unfairly being ripped off where others pay nothing. If someone was to visit a commercial fishery they would have to pay to use the facilities, and for that one could expect that charge to pay for the upkeep of those facilities. The current fees and charges for fishing in Sandwell are not unreasonable, they just need to be collected.

One can only conclude that if free fishing is unsustainably allowed to continue in Sandwell’s parks and open spaces, to their detriment and undesirability,  it can only be a “political decision” made not by the weight of evidence against it, but because it might put some people’s friends out of pocket. That is no way to conduct policy.


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