Habitat Management: Me and Mr Churchill

9 Apr 2014

Habitat Management Article from the Salmo Trutta Journal UK

Habit Management article written by Craig Copeland for the Salmo Trutta Journal, UK www.wildtrout.org

There are many basic elements of a waterway that fish require to survive and, indeed, thrive: good waterquality; water flow; instream structure, such as wood and rocks; good riparian zones and intact wetlands; and connectivity between sites. Unfortunately, around the world these elements have been degraded by human activity to such an extent that native fish numbers, particularly in freshwater and estuaries, have been significantly reduced.

For more than 20 years I have had the great fortune of being able to pursue a career in the improvement of fish populations through the restoration of natural habitat in New South Wales, Australia. My work, however, could be substantially improved through greater support from recreational fishers. And this is where Mr. Winston Churchill comes in!

Winston Churchill was extremely well regarded by Australians and, before his death, the Australian Government agreed to support a proposed memorial that would provide travel support for people to visit other countries to gain knowledge and experience that might thereby improve our country. The fundraising to build the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in Australia was the single largest effort of community fundraising in the country until the Asian Tsunami appeal! I was lucky enough to be granted one of these Churchill Fellowships to try and figure out why recreational fishers in the Northern Hemisphere are more actively engaged in supporting their fishery through fishers in the USA, Ireland and the UK and learned what motivates them to put something back into their fisheries.

My biggest problem in travelling to the UK was having to deal with my hosts' rampant joy as the Australian scrum collapsed at home to the British and Irish Lions and our cricketers found the swing of England too much to bear. They were clearly delighted to have an Aussie in their midst. Happily, I can report that normal transmission has been resumed and Australia's low sporting ebb seems to be over (Ashes anyone?) – but who knew so many fishers also followed other sports!

My hosts in the UK, Martin Salter from the Angling Trust and Simon Evans from the Wye and Usk Foundation, took me to some marvellous places and introduced me to some great people. And with similar rich encounters in Ireland and the US, I was able to put together a reasonable plan for action in Australia. Before I tell you about that I would like to share with you some observations of fish habitat issues I encountered in the UK.
First, you need to thank your lucky stars that your fish are good swimmers – Australian fish are lazy. As a consequence it was possible for the Wye and Usk Foundation to spend £150 in restoring a fish passage at a site that in Australia would have cost at least £12,000. We also have a lot more barriers!

You also need to be thankful for willows and how easy they are to plant. Trying to remove them from Australian waterways (they are a bloody pest) is hard work and expensive. The native trees we plant have a very low survival rate, needing lots of care for the first two years. But by far the most chilling to recognise and redress their impact on water flow and quality. My firm belief is that it is only when organisations like Fish Legal bring wrong-doers to account and stop further habitat losses, it then becomes possible to start seeking habitat gains through restoration. That’s why I hope all fishers throughout the UK realise that they shouldn’t leave it solely to members.

The restored weir bypass and instream works at Arborfield, River Loddon, and left: Craig Copeland with the Arborleigh Angling Club, Environment Agency staff & friend of Australian fishers Martin Salter fish habitat restoration than Australian fishers. I spent seven weeks talking to recreational Barriers to fish migration in New South Wales observation from my visit was the apparently identical struggle you have with farmers and companies of the Angling Trust to protect rivers – join if you haven’t already!

While my report  has been written to support advancement of the fish habitat restoration cause in Australia, I believe many of the lessons learned can be applied to improve an already good situation in the UK. My report indicates that a common driver in undertaking habitat work for the fishers I spoke to was information.

This seems simple enough, but as I have found out it is a mistake to assume all recreational fishers appreciate that, for instance, poor water quality might lead to sedimentation of gravel bars and reduced invertebrate production and fish spawning. Neil Marfel from the Monnow Rivers Association said that he never understood the ecology of fish when he first began fishing, but the penny dropped when he first heard a talk by the Wild Trout Trust about how to address the problems of the degraded fishery by fixing water quality and instream habitat: “fences are good – they improve water quality”. So take a bow WTT, and for the sake of others and your own, keep up these efforts!

Just as important was the camaraderie produced by working together with fellow recreational fishers towards a common goal, not often found in what is generally an individual pastime. This shared and wonderful social experience was best expressed by the members of the Godalming Angling Society.

Although the bulk of their work was to manage their fishing lakes, they were also carrying out work to restore local streams  and wild fish populations. The feeling that I got from talking to the members of this Club, which would be mirrored across many others I imagine, was that they were having a great time looking after the future of fishing and making contributions that were positive to the local economy. And they loved having another excuse (if one was needed) to get out of the house.

Probably the most interesting and useful thing that I saw was the support given to recreational fishers who had become involved in habitat restoration and management, by recreational fishing- based organisations and government agencies. The Wild Trout Trust and various rivers trusts are in place across the UK s taken many years to mess it up and it will take many years to put it back. And this is where the presence of organisations like the Tweed Foundation are essential.

I had a great trip to the UK, saw some wonderful country and met some wonderful people, and while I’m quite happy living in Australia, I’m just a little jealous of the actions recreational fishers have going to restore fisheries – and fish that can jump more than 10cm! I learned a lot, but I also learned that there are things we are doing in fish habitat in Oz, or that are happening in Ireland or the US, that may be interesting  to anglers in the UK. For that reason you might like to read Newstreams (a free digital newsletter on fish habitat issues). I am also wondering whether it’s time to set up an international fish habitat network – to connect people and organisations carrying out fish habitat work and hopefully make the task a little easier by sharing our knowledge. If you like the idea and would like to work  on it with me, please let me know through the editor.  

Visit www.fishhabitatnetwork.com.au/newstreams

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