Covid-19: Calls for anglers in Wales to be able to drive for fishing

By Tyler Edwards
Journalist, BBC News

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image copyrightMatthew Davies
image captionMatthew Davies (left) runs the Black Mountain Fishery and Campsite

Anglers say it is "extremely frustrating" they are unable to travel by car in Wales to go fishing locally.

Angling is allowed during England's third national lockdown, if anglers fish alone or with household members, socially distance and stay local.

A petition calling for anglers in Wales to be able to drive to their fishing spot has been signed 1,700 times.

The Welsh Government said its alert level 4 restrictions were necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19.

In Wales, the latest guidelines state that, while activities like fishing and horse riding are not "specifically prohibited", people must not drive for exercise and "the need to carry sports equipment isn't regarded as a justification on its own for driving in these circumstances".

"This will mean in practice most people cannot do these things while we are in alert level 4," the guidance explains, meaning there is currently no explicit bar on walking locally to fish but driving to do so is not permitted.

It comes after figures from National Resources Wales (NRW) showed a 16% increase in full rod licence sales in October 2020 compared with 2019.

Matthew Davies from Swansea, who created the petition to the Welsh Government, wants people to be able to travel to fish locally and said the current situation was "extremely frustrating".

"I am not allowed to travel from my house to my boat in Swansea Marina, which is 3.1 miles (4.9km), go out fishing on my own, and then come back," he said.

image copyrightMatthew Davies
image captionMatthew Davies' son Riley is also a keen angler

People in Wales are currently required to stay at home and only mix with their household or support bubble, while only leaving their home for "essential reasons".

Exercise should start and finish at your home, and the Welsh Government has asked people to avoid activities that involve a significant degree of risk, such as swimming or other exercise at sea, in lakes, rivers or other waterways.

Mr Davies, who runs Black Mountain Fishery and Camping site in Garnant, Carmarthenshire, said angling was just as important for people's mental wellbeing as it was for their physical health.

"A lot of people take this time to relax. It's not just the exercise part, it's for people's mental state as well. Some people don't go anywhere," he said.

"It's also about the community spirit and we just haven't got that at the moment.

"Kids can't do anything. But the enjoyment of seeing a kid on the bank with their father, catching their very first fish... you'll never recreate that. It's incredible."

Mr Davies said he believed angling was a perfect sport for social-distancing, adding: "A lot of the time, in my business for example, we'll have two people on one lake that is half an acre. You'd have to shout to someone to talk to them.

"Yes, you get people who talk to each other, but if you're casting a line out on to the water and have anyone within two, three metres, the only thing you're going to catch is yourself, or the other person."

Dr John O'Connor, chairman of Angling Cymru, from Martletwy in Pembrokeshire, said he "can see both sides of the argument".

"If you look on social media, it's very divided," he said.

"Some say you shouldn't be looking to go further away from home because it increases the risk, but others will say, 'I want to go fishing on my own, where's the harm in it?' The other side of the coin is, how on earth do you police it?"

image copyrightJohn O'Connor
image captionAngling Cymru chairman Dr John O'Connor has about 65 years of fishing experience

Dr O'Connor said he would like to think he could drive to nearby Amroth to set up on the beach, but was doubtful it would be allowed.

The Welsh Government pointed to the latest guidance, which states: "The purpose of moving to alert level 4 is to do everything we can to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect people's health, so every individual contribution counts toward that collective effort."

A spokesman said anglers could walk but the need to drive to carry kit and tackle was not a justification for driving.

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