Emma Dunlop COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have condemned the decision to remove fish from a Sheffield nature reserve, claiming it will "further victimise" fishermen.
Earlier this week the Yorkshire Post reported how, for the second year running, all large fish had been removed from ponds in Shire Brook Valley Local Nature Reserve at Sheffield to stop people fishing on the site.
Sheffield Council officials took the drastic action of stunning, netting and removing healthy fish from the popular site following a freak accident involving an electricity pylon in the vicinity of the reserve.
Last year a teenage boy carrying a fishing rod suffered a serious electric shock, resulting in burns to his hands and feet from nearby electricity cables.
In September 2004, fishing was banned at the nature reserve, following a detailed investigation into the viability of angling at the site and advice from the Health and Safety Executive.
But the Countryside Alliance condemned the latest decision to remove the fish stocks and claimed it significantly reduced the already poor access for Sheffield residents to countryside activities.
The Countryside Alliance regional director for Yorkshire, John Haigh, said: "Anglers in Sheffield, already victimised by the lack of suitable fishing grounds in and around the city, should not have to pay the price for poor land and utility management.
"As the leading campaigning organisation for anglers' rights, we naturally put personal safety and security at the top of the agenda.
"However, the injury to a young angler last year which has prompted the council's recent decision, was highly improbable and likely never to be repeated. We therefore call for a rethink on the policy."
He said angling and anglers were the main reason why the Shire Brook reserve and thousands of other ponds, lakes and rivers across the country were at their healthiest and cleanest.
"We look after the countryside more vigilantly than the council or other similar landowners, and we do it because we have a vested interest – cleaner water, healthier habitats and an improved environment increases fish stocks."
Mr Haigh said it was impossible to enter the reserve from most directions without passing under a high-voltage pylon. But only anglers have been banned.
Local firm Mainstream Fisheries was last week brought in by the council to remove the fish.
The council claimed the removal of fish had become necessary to deter a small handful of local adults and teenagers who have refused to comply with the new rules banning fishing anywhere on the site.
The council's Cabinet adviser for parks and countryside, David Barker, said: "It is impossible to enter the reserve from most directions without passing under a high-voltage pylon, so the risk of electrocution will always be there. Fishing somewhere else is the only safe option."