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Guest Column, April 2006

Mark Lloyd has been the Executive Director of the Anglers’ Conservation Association since April 2005. He started campaigning on river conservation issues aged 7. After his masters degree in Environmental Water Management he set up and ran a charity in London cleaning up the Thames and its tributaries for 10 years before moving to his current position.

The Anglers Conservation Association fight to make polluters pay

Water pollution kills hundreds of thousands of fish each year, which has a huge impact on local economies, aquatic wildlife and not least the enjoyment of anglers. Rivers and stillwaters are also under threat from water abstraction, escaped farmed fish, weirs and flood defence works. The Anglers’ Conservation Association (ACA) is a unique organisation which fights these and other threats to water environments under common law and seeks financial compensation for our members when they do become reality.

We are currently fighting about 60 legal cases on behalf of our members with a value of over £2 million in compensation. Reports of these cases in the media act as a serious deterrent to would-be polluters, as they know that if we can find evidence that they have damaged our members’ waters, a writ from the ACA will land on their doormat shortly afterwards. The ACA also secures several injunctions from the courts to stop damage continuing. If an injunction is broken, offenders can find themselves in contempt of court and can end up in jail.

The ACA fights these cases by using the common law. While the Environment Agency (EA) and other enforcement bodies use the criminal law to prosecute polluters, the fines are paid to the Treasury and are often too small to make an impact on the profits of big companies. Using common law, the ACA can seek compensation for the person or angling club for the damage caused by the pollution. Whilst criminal cases must be proved ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ (i.e. 99% certain), civil cases under common law need only be proved ‘on balance of probabilities’ (i.e. 51% certain). This means that the ACA is much more likely to win its cases and when it does, all of the money goes back to improving the affected river.

Our members’ subscriptions contribute to our famous ‘fighting fund’ which allows us to indemnify our members against any risks of losing a case – although we have only lost three cases since our formation in 1948 and have won thousands. We work very closely with the EA and others to follow up on criminal prosecutions with a civil action wherever we have members who have been affected.

Examples of our current caseload include:

  • A claim for over £600,000 for pollution of the Sussex Ouse with pesticides which decimated the whole river’s fish population;
  • A claim on the River Wenning for the escape of rainbow trout into a brown trout fishery;
  • Action on behalf of 2 clubs and 5 individual fishery owners on the River Brue who suffered a huge fish kill as a result of organic pollution from a farm;

The ACA has also recently:

  • Obtained damages for another ACA member club in Yorkshire excluded from its water during maintenance work on a water company pumping station.
  • Successfully argued that a farmer in Essex did not have an alleged right of way that would have meant the filling in of an ACA member club’s lakes.
  • Ensured that an ACA member club in South Wales received compensation following a pollution incident and fish kill caused by the Royal Mint on the River Ely in 2005.

The ACA offers a unique advice service for its member clubs and riparian owners on legal matters, taking on over 100 issues each year. These can range from the mundane to the comical: we have helped anglers negotiate with a local farmer about an aggressive bull and found a way of preventing a charity rubber duck race interfering with an annual fishing match.

For more information about the cases we are fighting on behalf of our members, please visit our web site and click on the ‘case updates’ section, where you will find much more detail.

The ACA also fights many other causes on behalf of anglers. At the time of going to press, the ACA is celebrating the suspension of sales of cypermethrin sheep dip, something it has been calling for since 1997. The ACA performed a crucial role in securing this ban by threatening to bring a multimillion pound claim directly against the manufacturers of cypermethrin and threatening the Veterinary Medicines Directorate with judicial review for failings in its public consultation process. The ACA may still pursue this claim for the severe damage that has already been caused and will continue to fight for a permanent ban.

If you care about the health of our rivers and still waters, then please join us. We have about 10,000 members, which is a tiny fraction of all anglers. If every angler supported the ACA with £20 a year (less than 40p a week), just imagine what we could do on your behalf. If you are a member of a club, find out if the club is a member; if they are, then you qualify for a reduced rate membership and the club benefits from the legal protection we offer. If you own a stretch of water, then please give us a call to discuss riparian owner membership.

You can download a membership form for all categories of membership on our web site at www.a-c-a.org or just phone us on 01568 620447 and we’ll send you a postage-paid form to complete and return to us. It’s really easy to support our work.