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Angling & Conservation Developing partnerships to improve habitats

December 9 2008

Allan Frake, Fisheries Recreation & Biodiversity, South Wessex

It is fair to say that over the years Angling and Conservation organisations have not always seen 'eye to eye' or been the best of 'bed-fellows'. Fortunately, things have been changing in recent years and the word 'conflict' is seldom heard echoing up the Avon valley. Both Conservation and Angling interest groups are working extremely hard in the South Wessex Area with a number of exciting initiatives underway and success stories reported.

Opportunities for promoting river management and habitat enhancement to benefit wildlife are achieved by working with those people who make a vital contribution to caring for the river system namely landowners, managers and fishery interests along the river.

On the upper Hampshire /Wiltshire Avon catchment above Salisbury the Wessex Chalk Streams Project Partnership has been running for 3 years focusing on river enhancement and management on the tributaries upstream of Salisbury. The Project is largely funded by Wessex Water with contributions from the Environment Agency, English Nature and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. The Wiltshire Fishery Association has a significant input and also help to steer the project and ensure that fishing interests are included and well represented.

There is an initial contact point - Jenny Wheeldon who is happy to provide advice on river related management , particularly involving fishing interests and linking up with the plethora of organisations and projects on the catchment. One of Jenny's priority areas of work involves promoting small scale 'opportunistic' river restoration projects which take many different forms, and depending on the level of conservation benefit of the schemes support in the form of grants may be available to assist in the construction and purchase of materials. These have been very well received and successful ranging from projects of just a few metres of river bank and carried out by the owner with a little help from friends, to larger projects of several hundred metres where specialist 'river mending' contractors have to be brought in to effect a sustainable improvement of the habitat. Most of these projects can involve the careful placement of in-river structures to alter the flow characteristics, raising the bed level of the river and creating riffle pool sequences by importing gravel into the channel, or by increasing velocity of specific 'over-widened' channel areas by narrowing using faggots or creating marginal berms. This can dramatically improve the physical diversity of the river which in turn creates and optimises habitat diversity for fish and other species of conservation interest.

The co-operation between the fishing and conservation interests has largely been achieved through excellent liaison and a better understanding of the various issues and potential conflict areas between the groups. The realisation that in general a 'holistic' approach is usually the right one where if the overall riverine habitat is improved then nature is very adept and robust at responding in a positive way, therefore, if you get the habitat in order then various life stages of fish populations from spawning to fry survival and adult refuge areas will also improve.

Over 30 river habitat enhancent initiatives on this relatively small river-reach scale have been completed on the catchment in the last 5 years. A more ambitious scheme to obtain significant funding from Europe and the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out extensive habitat enhancements on the River Avon is currently under way with a partnership between English Nature, Environment Agency and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust fronting the initial bid with a view to, if successful, carrying out large scale river restoration projects in the next 3-5 years.

One of the most exciting collaborative partnership projects to promote the integrated relationship between angling and conservation is currently underway at Langford Lakes on the Wylye valley 8 miles west of Salisbury.
Approximately 13 hectares of former gravel pit workings and a half mile of excellent classic chalk stream on the Wylye have been purchased by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust who have developed a comprehensive partnership with the Salmon & Trout Association, Wild Trout Trust, Wiltshire Fishery Association, with significant financial and practical support from English Nature and the Environment Agency.

The river offers a very interesting fishery predominantly for Trout and Grayling but other good quality coarse fish species are present including dace and perch. A significant amount of habitat enhancement using 'bioengineering' techniques and utilising natural materials including willow and hazel faggots and in-stream current deflectors to increase habitat diversity and holding areas for fish have been installed which will hopefully improve fish populations and will be monitored in subsequent years by a team from the Game Conservancy Trust.

On the still-water side, the Trust has recently purchased an additional lake - the Brockbank Lake where angling will be promoted, swims are to be constructed with facilities for the disabled and tuition particularly for young anglers will be encouraged. The lake is currently being assessed and a fishery management plan developed primarily to improve habitat for coarse fish species to include additional reed beds and submerged vegetation, selective bankside tree clearance to allow more light to improve the quality of aquatic vegetation.

The Langford Lakes project is well on the way to demonstrating 'best-practice' in the management of river and lake habitats accommodating a balance of both angling and conservation interests. As part of this visionary balance a key part is education, and the Langford Centre offer superb potential and facilities for not only angling tuition but environmental education for school parties and courses and seminars for adult audiences as well.

Further details of the Wessex Chalk Stream Project can be obtained from
Jenny Wheeldon, the Project Officer
Tel. 01380 726344 ext 241
[email protected].

Details of fishing opportunities at Langford can be obtained from
Chris Riley at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01380 725670.
e-mail [email protected].