The importance of shooting and fishing was endorsed by senior politicians from all sides at three rural receptions jointly hosted by the Angling Trust and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) at the Liberal Democrats’ conference in Brighton, Labour’s gathering in Manchester and the Conservatives’ rally in Birmingham. All three parties pledged to work closely with the Angling Trust on developing policies that would benefit fish and fishing.
Freshwater Campaigns manager Mark Owen spoke for the Angling Trust at the LibDems, Chief Executive Mark Lloyd and National Campaigns Coordinator Martin Salter went to the Tories and Martin was also dispatched to his former home in the Labour Party to make the case for angling.
Martin Salter said:
“Angling is now in the happy place where politicians of all parties are keen to be seen on the side of Britain’s most popular participant sport. This is the result of years of hard work by both the Angling Trust and our predecessor organisations and it is vital that we continue to run professional campaigns at a national level that grab the attention of our law makers. However, our voice would be even stronger with more members and more resources.”
Mark Lloyd added:
“These events are a vital opportunity to take our message not only to government ministers and senior politicians but also to local councillors and party members who can have a big influence on local decisions which can be really important to thousands of anglers. We have built strong relationships across the political spectrum and we need to maintain these by regularly briefing politicians about the issues that matter to them.”
The work of BASC and the Angling Trust was labelled “invaluable” by the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson MP who said:
“Can I make this very clear that I am extremely supportive of the work that both BASC and The Angling Trust carry out – it is invaluable, and I support your view that we need to manage the countryside to get the best out of it in terms of both conservation and boosting the rural economy. It is only through the commitment of associations and organisations such as yourselves that we can continue to do this work.”
In his speech, Mark Lloyd urged the government to stop subsidising at great cost the installation of hydropower turbines which had the potential to reverse the important investment by DEFRA in removal of barriers to migration in rivers. He also stressed the need for radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which had led to a massive decline in marine fish stocks.
Country sports were praised by Labour with Tom Harris MP, the Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, announcing how he was delighted to have been given a shotgun lesson by BASC and taught how to catch his first coarse fish by the Angling Trust as part of the briefings for his new role.
He said: “There is a tolerance of country sports and shooting, but we cannot simply be tolerant; country sports add a huge amount to conservation and we as the Labour government should encourage field sports for all the benefits that they provide in terms of employment, income generated and conservation.”
Tom also pledged to work with the Angling Trust to update his party’s Charter for Angling’.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Shadow Food and Farming Minister, said the Labour party needed to recognise the importance of field and country sports and the impact they have.
He said: “We need to recognise as a party the importance of field and country sports and the impact they have on a vast area of the country. We need to be engaging positively with organisations such as BASC and the Angling Trust and I can assure both organisations that you have my support and admiration.”
In his speech Martin Salter said: “As a former MP, I don’t want to see shooting and fishing driven to the margins, I want both sports to remain mainstream to politicians. Both sports encourage young people not to go down the route of drugs and crime and there are huge social and economic benefits arising from both shooting and fishing.”
Mark Owen gave a speech to senior Lib Dem MPs and shared a platform with David Heath, the new Minister of State at DEFRA. Mark spoke about the £3.5 billion annual value of angling to society, the importance of fishing to the economy of rural and coastal communities and the threats faced to angling from pollution, predation, over abstraction of rivers and poor fish stocks at sea
Andrew George MP, Liberal Democrat Commons spokesperson on the environment, said the party supported and sought to protect the contribution BASC and the Angling Trust made to the countryside and the environment. He said: “If we reflect back on the last couple of years, we strongly support and seek to protect the contribution BASC and The Angling Trust make to the countryside and to the environment.”