Anglers feel passionately about protecting fish and fisheries, and many of us happily volunteer our time to support angling clubs as bailiffs. Wider enforcement work today is ‘intelligence-led’, relying upon incoming calls regarding incidents and information concerning offenders – and over a million freshwater anglers represents a potentially significant source of intelligence not only for the Environment Agency but also the police and Fish Health Inspectorate, all of whom work in partnership on the ‘bigger picture’ and rely upon ‘eyes and ears’. This country has a long and proud history of volunteering, the police, for example, having received essential support from the Special Constabulary for many years. Indeed, in Eastern Europe, government fisheries officers are supported by a huge army of volunteers - 5,000 in Poland alone – and in Holland, Royal Sportfisserij Nederland effectively manages and administers fisheries enforcement volunteers. The ‘VBS’, therefore, is a unique opportunity for freshwater anglers in England to positively contribute towards supporting the Environment Agency and police in protecting fish and fisheries.
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VBS is inclusive, embracing volunteers from all age groups, sexes and ethnicities.
There are two phases to VBS. Phase 1, the value of which was confirmed through the Angling Trust and Environment Agency pilot project partnership in South East England between 2012 and 2015, revolves entirely around training Volunteer Bailiffs to report incidents and information to the appropriate agency and to a high evidential standard – thus increasing the chances of successful prosecutions. Phase 1 volunteers, due to health and safety considerations, are not expected to approach anglers on the bank – but report what they see and hear. That, in fact, emphasises how vitally important reporting is: 0800 80 70 60.
Phase 1 training is provided by Angling Trust staff, who are both retired police officers and anglers; the Environment Agency; National Wildlife Crime Unit or local police, and the Fish Health Inspectorate. A short film at a SE VBS mandatory initial training day can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lPvwG_2lUs&sns=em
Volunteers receive a handbook, pocketbook, identity card, and Angling Trust clothing. All volunteers must be over eighteen years of age and individual members of the Angling Trust for insurance purposes – which is an inflexible requirement of the Environment Agency.
VBS Phase 1 is now ‘live’ throughout England, administered by six regions, each run by an Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Manager, who works very closely with the Environment Agency. Each region is sub-divided into areas, each with an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer acting as a Single Point of Contact, liaising with a volunteer serving as an Area Co-ordinator. Incidents in progress are reported to the Environment Agency Incident Communication Service, or to police control rooms if appropriate. Summaries of patrols, and communication, is via regional secure VBS websites.
For more information on VBS in your area, please either contact your Regional Enforcement Manager (details provided on the Fisheries Enforcement Service page), or email our administrator on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phase 1 also enables the Angling Trust to identify those volunteers with the commitment and aptitude for elevation to Phase 2 – working with and directly in support of Environment Agency fisheries enforcement officers. Potential Phase 2 volunteers are invited by the Environment Agency to apply and sit a competency-based interview identical to professional staff. Successful applicants will then receive the same training, equipment as Agency staff, and work within their teams. Phase 2 volunteers will be empowered to check rod licences and deal with certain fisheries offences. The concept is for Phase 2 volunteers to deal with low-level fisheries enforcement work, thus permitting Agency staff to progress more complicated enquiries. Rod licence funding is essential to maintaining and improving fisheries – and reducing evasion and increasing compliance is very much what VBS is all about long-term. Phase 2 is currently a pilot project within SE region, and if successful, like Phase 1, this will also be extended throughout England.