Aussie tourist’s England triumph

AUSSIE Tourist’s England Triumph, now that’s a headline you guys ain’t going to be reading anytime soon if the recent performances of the once proud Australian cricket and rugby teams is anything to go by. Don’t worry, this is not a nose-rubbing piece by a gloating Pom, although goodness knows we’ve waited a long time for this moment, rather it’s to tell Aussie fishos about the exploits of one of your unsung heroes who recently toured your “Mother Country” and even tried to drop in on our shared Queen for a cuppa tea.

Step forward Craig Copeland, Manager of the Conservation Action Unit in Fisheries NSW and, more importantly, the driving force behind the excellent Fishers for Fish Habitat programme which seeks to involve the angling community in vital habitat restoration work. Craig has recently returned from a Churchill Scholarship tour looking at best practice in habitat work and angler engagement in order to bring new ideas and enthusiasm back to Australia.

Luckily for Craig and his wife Paula, who are both big sports fans, they left these shores before the grinding humiliation of the Ashes series had begun. This was a shame for me for, as much as I enjoyed having them stay at my place in England for a couple of nights, how much better would it have been to be sitting down with them to watch Stuart Broad thundering in to demolish the Aussie batsmen in a collapse that saw eight wickets fall for a paltry 56 runs? If they had stayed longer we could have enjoyed the spectacle of the final game in the “whitewash series” at the Oval after which their team will slump to fifth place in the world rankings behind Pakistan. OK … no more gloating … I promise!

I first met Craig a couple of years ago when I was living in Sydney and working on my Keep Australia Fishing report for the boating and fishing tackle trade. Craig had already set up the Fish Habitat Network and brought over international experts like Tom Sadler from the USA to inspire Aussie rec fishing groups to get involved with projects to fix some of the many problems that mankind has caused to fish and fisheries. These can include re-snagging rivers to restore important habitat for the Murray Cod, creating vital spawning riffles to encourage recruitment by trout and bass or removing some of the very many artificial barriers to fish migrations which cause too many of your rivers to fail to function as properly dynamic ecosystems.

Craig had read Keep Australia Fishing with its emphasis on putting rec fishing in the forefront of good environmental practice and wanted to explore ideas with Jim Harnwell and myself. Both Jim and I were immediately impressed by the bloke’s “can do” attitude – not something that is always found in every corner of government departments.

I particularly recall Craig telling us how he wanted to encourage fishos to do more than simply picking fights with other groups and to become part of the solution. This was music to my ears after having strived hard to establish the Angling Trust here in the UK as the first unified national peak body for our sport. Environmental campaigning in the interests of fish, fisheries and fishing is very much our core business at the Angling Trust where I know work as National Campaigns Coordinator. You can see more HERE.

We have been all through the “hatchery versus habitat” debate over here and there are now very few rec fishing groups in my country who still believe that we can sit idly by watching politicians and developers screw up the environment and just re-stock ourselves out of trouble. As I wrote a while ago, in a deliberate mis-quote of Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan: “It’s the Habitat Stupid” – fix that, and water quality, and the fish will follow. You can read the full piece HERE.

I had never heard of the Churchill Scholarships before Craig dropped me a line seeking some help with the UK part of his tour, but they seem a fantastic way of bringing back home great ideas and projects from around the world to benefit Australia. Call me a magpie if you like but I’ve always held the view that there is little that is original out there and that somewhere, someone else has already thought or done what we need to do and it’s often a case of finding who, where and what and applying their bright ideas to the local situation.

I guess the reason that Aussie fishos have been a little behind the curve in embracing environmental action and habitat improvement is because you live in a large and comparatively sparsely populated country where, for a long while, if one river system, reef or dam was destroyed there was always another up the road. This is not the case anymore and slowly I see fishos waking up to the need to develop a powerful voice against commercial over fishing, appalling agricultural practices and habitat destruction. In the more crowded environs of Europe and the USA we have had to engage with these issues for longer and with more urgency if much of our fishing was to survive.

So what to do with the Aussie tourists?

Well those of you who attended the excellent 2012 recreational fishing conference in the Gold Coast will have heard a superb presentation from my friend and colleague Simon Evans who is Deputy Director of one of the UK’s premier river trusts, the Wye and Usk Foundation. Simon and his crew have worked wonders in restoring huge sections of these two magnificent rivers on the borders of England and Wales. Therefore Craig was keen to begin his studies in this part of our world before travelling east to see some projects in my local Thames Valley. I took both he and Paula to a couple of lovely, catch and release, still water fisheries that are well managed by local angling clubs. They met club officials and enthusiastic volunteers who look after these waters and the fish habitat with more care than they give to their own gardens. In the few hours of down time that their programme allowed I arranged for them to visit historic Windsor Castle and although the flags said that “Betty” was at home she didn’t seem keen on making the tea that day!

For me, the highlight of their visit was taking Craig and Paula to the new River Loddon fish by-pass channel which is already providing superb spawning habitat on one the most beautiful of the Thames tributaries. Luckily I don’t have to find the words to describe this further as we shot some great video of the visit that you can see here.

Alternatively, you can view the photo album that the guys from my local Environment Agency put together HERE.

We eventually packed our Aussie mates off north to see how some of the Scottish river salmon runs have been restored via a quick trip round the House of Commons – my old workplace for the 13 years prior to coming to Australia. As we said goodbye I was left thinking how great it is that this love of fish and fishing makes us happy to share what we have and know with the good guys who are working hard to ensure that the next generations of Poms, Yanks and Aussies have a fishing future to look forward to.

You can find out more about Fishers for Fish Habitat HERE.

And if this isn’t happening in your region or state start asking your politicians why not – after all they’ll be wanting your vote shortly!

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