So where to from here?
Thinking out loud - Some thoughts from the current Chairman
Let me record right from the start of this piece that I realise my place within the Carp Society today reflects the fact that the current board of directors could only be made up of the life members of the Society following the decline in memberships engineered by the former leadership over recent years. My appointment followed the Extraordinary General meeting in May 2016, called because of members' concerns about the management of Society assets. That said, I was one of a small number of founder members in 1981, and have been Society chairman in the past. In the years that followed its creation in 1981 the Carp Society became renowned for regional meetings, conferences, Carp Fisher magazine, Cyprinews, and fish-ins. In the early 90s a dream was realised through the purchase of Horseshoe Lake, a quite extraordinary achievement. The purchase was financed by 1300 members who contributed to the purchase, many of whom never even fished the lake. I make that point to demonstrate the depth of feeling there was for the Society in those times.
Over the years that followed the Society suffered a number of financial hiccups, but today, apart from the current legal dispute, it is on a very sound financial footing. It has its own headquarters at Horseshoe, two loyal employees, syndicates at Farriers and Langholme, Horseshoe Lake and a holiday fishing venue, "Little Farriers", in addition to the successful Sandown Show and Junior Carp School. It should be viewed as a successful organisation, but for its declining membership and its lack of influence in the world of angling.
When I was last involved in the running of the Society during the 1990s there were in the region of 5000 members. At the time of the EGM in May 2016, when I became involved again, the previous board considered there to be only 10, plus the two Vice Presidents. This did not include life members. So at a time of massive growth in carp fishing, and a growing number of carp anglers, when one may have expected 10,000 or more members, the Society had 10, or 12! The reasons for the gradual reduction in membership has been recorded elsewhere, but was 'achieved' by a reduction in benefits to members, a passport scheme and a hike in membership costs to £95. At the time of writing the membership stands at about 600, and is again slowly growing. I suspect that number is made up of those who use our fisheries and former loyal members who have now rejoined. Thank you by the way! So my first "thought out loud" is that we must recruit more members! You may wonder why I place great store on this. It is simply that the current board strongly believe the Society could have a significant impact and influence on the world of angling if it represents a significant number of members. We are also looking at an associate member scheme, for both organisations and individuals who want to be part of the Society.
Angling as a whole is facing more challenges at the present time than ever before and needs strong representation to counter these challenges.
I'll throw in a piece of history here for those that doubt this argument. When the Society had 5000 members it was instrumental in supporting the setting up of a group called the SACG [Specialist Anglers Consultative Group], led by Tim Marks and Chris Burt. At that time there were a number of regional rod licences issued by the various regional water boards, some with a two-rod limit, some with three. It was through the work of SACG that this arrangement was rationalised to a national fishing licence, as a result of which we can now use up to four rods on certain waters. At the time this was a very significant forward move for carp and other specialist anglers. I offer that as an example of what can be achieved with the correct political input and influence.
The Carp Society of the future needs to become a political organisation again working for anglers as a whole, and carp anglers in particular. We also want to work hand in hand with the PAG, [Predation Action Group] in combating what someone recently described the growing threat from predation as the "perfect storm!" At a time when 75% of our rivers are falling below objectives, largely through failing stocking levels, we are facing predation from red signal crayfish on eggs, spawn and fry, cormorants and goosanders on smaller specimens, with otters proving the ultimate predators in predating on carp, pike and other larger specimens.
Some of our larger lakes, and those that cannot be fenced, plus rivers, parks, places that have to allow public right of way have already, or will in the future, experience predation. Our new recently launched web site has a page for reporting predation, and we urge you all to use it to enable us to build a data base to support the campaign against predation. We also want to support fisheries facing difficulty in this area as part of the Carp Society package. So there you have my second 'think out loud', which took a while to spell out: politics, and a voice for carp anglers and angling as a whole, and someone who has the time to do it on behalf of the Society and carp angling, possibly a "political co-ordinator." You can read our statement on predation on the new web site. I should perhaps mention that our fisheries manager, and fellow director Miles Carter has completed the course training to "trap an otter inside a fenced fishery" under the Natural England Class Licence scheme. We will do everything we can to support fisheries experiencing difficulty.
My third point is much shorter. They say charity begins at home, and my third point is about our current supporters. My third "out loud" is that we continue to improve our fisheries, through stocking policy and management, fencing Langholme, improving the holiday amenities on Little Farriers and, hopefully, more fishery ownership, objectives which, with your support, are all certainly within our capacity and capability. On these issues all I can say at present is "watch this space." But as soon as the current legal battle for control of the Society is complete you will see greater activity from us.
Like many Carp Society members I subscribe to and use Facebook. I regularly see posts from those former members who want to see a "back to the future" approach to the Society of 2017. Everyone who remembers the halcyon days of regional meetings, Carp Fisher magazine, and Cyprinews, look back on the "old days" with great fondness. That said, times have moved on. From a time when the Dunstable and Wembley shows and Carp Fisher magazine were the only ones on offer, today we have Sandown [our own event], Brentwood, Five Lakes, Northern Angling show and the Big One, plus five or six carp magazines – and that's not including those published on line. The current board have to be mindful of the fact members need the benefits of membership, set against the reality of present times. To that effect we now have a new website, and increasingly use Facebook. We are looking into an on line Cyprinews, but cannot progress these areas until our court case is finalised. Don't rule out a book either, available at reduced cost to members. "Celebrating 35 Years!" sounds good to me. So there's another "thinking out loud," communication with members.
As a long term carp angler myself I, and the other board members, are appreciative of the achievements of past carp anglers and recognise the contribution many have made to the Carp Society, and our sport. We are conscious that apart from a couple of books and private collections there is nowhere that the history of carp fishing is celebrated. So here's another "out loud." We intend to establish a carp fishing museum and reference library at Horseshoe Lake when the court case is over, and have already sourced some items for this. We also recognise the contribution made to angling, by "special people" out there, and linking this to ensuring the Society is never again placed in jeopardy we have already approached a number of long-term anglers to become part of the leadership of the Society from now on.
We also wish to increase provision for helping youngsters into the sport. We want to work with the Angling Trust to make this happen. We already have a successful Junior Carp School, but want to increase our work in this area.
In future you will see us making greater use of the facilities at Horseshoe for Carp Society members. More social events, possibly in the fullness of time Regional meetings again, and in the shorter term possibly a travelling "Roadshow," to take our message to various parts of the country.
There will be more to come from me when we have resolved the current legal case, but for the moment I will close by acknowledging the efforts of those who have made the re-birth of the Society possible, meaning administrator Sabrina Widdows, my fellow board members Fishery Manager Miles Carter, Greg Fletcher, Brian Sefton, Paul Boichat, Steve Hall and Marsh Pratley, and the trio who sought the legal advice that made a successful legal outcome of the 'boardroom battle' a realistic proposition, John Seal, Tim Paisley and Bill Ward. Like me all these long-term Carp Society stalwarts are Society through and through, and have suffered a difficult 18 months in attempting to right a perceived injustice that had side-lined many of the true objectives on which the original Carp Society was based.
Those of us who have become re-involved in the Society are committed to making it an organisation for members again, so here's a promise that we will listen to your views. The Carp Society is once again a democracy accountable to members, something it hasn't been for some while now! Join us and let's make it the special organisation it used to be, and can be again!
Derek Stritton, Chairman, February 2017