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Isaac Walton must be turning in his grave

Friday 25 August 2006

Our countryside commentator, John Sheard, who as a boy fished Isaac Walton's favourite river, ponders the threat from animal rights terrorists who have declared class war on anglers

IN THE most successful non-religious book ever written, The Compleat Angler, Isaac Walton described angling as "the contemplative man's sport." Well I had a lot to contemplate this week - and very little of it was good.

Last week, a group of 35 baseball bat wielding, balaclavered animal rights terrorists attacked families fishing at a trout lake on the banks of the River Lune near Lancaster, terrifying children, punching women and breaking fishing rods.

Will our rivers be scene of more attacks?

This was an identical attack to one I reported several years ago on the River Kent near Kendal, when a group of old age pensioners were beaten up by hunt saboteurs - "sabs" as they call themselves. Rods were broken then and a hooked salmon "freed" trailing rod and line, almost certain to die in agony dragging such a weight.

Now as a boy, I occasionally fished the River Dove in Derbyshire, Isaac Walton's favourite trout stream. His angling friend, Charles Cotton, went to my old school. The Compleat Angler, which has sold more copies than any other book in English other than the Bible, and which has never been out of print for some three centuries.

It was the first full-length "grown up" book I ever read and it made me into a life-long conservationist because I could compare the crystal-clear Dove with the polluted open sewers of then still-unreformed industrial polluters.

I knew, even then, that the Dove had been kept in its pristine state to preserve its trout for the angling pleasure of local landowners. And this is why those violent yobbos who attacked innocent families at play near Lancaster have got it all wrong.

They pretend to be fighting for animal rights but most of them will know that it was angling interests that saved rivers like the Lune and the Kent. Without them, there would be very few trout streams left in England and the stately salmon would have been extinct a century or more ago.

The "sabs" know this fine well - many of them are university graduates, which says a lot for modern university education - but, you see, they are not interested in animals, only people - the type of people they look upon as "posh."

These include the people who go fly fishing and - as had happened in the Lancaster attack - shooting. Police say they had set out to disrupt a grouse shoot on the Duke of Westminster's estate nearby and, frustrated by swift police action, had turned on the angler victims in spite and frustration.

So this week, I went fishing with my mobile phone turned on, as advised by the police. The stretch I fished was next to a public footpath and every time a walker approached, I readied myself for a hail of rocks or worse.

It didn't happen, of course, but if someone had decided to attack, I would have been helpless: unlike hunting or shooting, fishing is a solitary sport. I was alone, feeling exposed, and wondering what had happened to this England of mine.

When Left Wing Labour MPs banned fox-hunting, we were promised faithfully that the animal rights people did not intend to carry their campaign onward against shooting and fishing. No-one believed them, of course, which suggests that MPs are either idiots or liars - or possibly both.

The fact of the matter, as the Israelis are discovering at the moment, is that you cannot negotiate with terrorists: they will take every advantage and go back on every promise. Will this Government protect me and my piscatorial friends? Of course not.

So it looks as though I must spend my autumn years living, if not with fear then certainly with anxiety, every time I go out to savour the contemplative man's sport. Old Isaac must be spinning in his grave.

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