(Full version of an article which first appeared in the Sunday Herald on 23 March 2008)

ANGLING, that most pastoral of sporting pursuits, is waking up this week to a revolution in its corridors of power as work begins on an ambitious five year development plan under a new and unified Scottish development organisation.

The three discrete governing bodies which control the sport – game, sea and coarse fishing – have set aside old prejudices and enmities to join forces and capture key funding from sportscotland and establish the Angling Development Board of Scotland.

Under chairman Ian Robertson, a professional sports development officer, formerly with Scottish Rugby Union, the board aims to draw up a single plan for angling in Scotland by 2013. The challenge will be to exploit areas of common ground while maintaining the distinct characteristics of each of the three disciplines.

Its launch has been hailed as a new dawn for a recreation which historically has been fragmented and hindered by factional self-interest and which, despite mistaken popular opinion that it is the biggest participant sport in the land, is currently in decline.

It also sees Scotland set an example which will be much envied south of the Border where similar unification objectives remain stalled amid political in-fighting.

Stewart Harris, chief executive of sportscotland whose £18,450 of extra funding this year has triggered the project, said: “Working together to share information and expertise will deliver huge benefits to existing members and allow the sport to attract a whole generation of new anglers.”

Declining membership is one of the underlying reasons why angling’s administrators have had to get together. Mike Horn, president of the Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers, one of the three founding disciplines, says:

“During the last 20 years there has been a persistent decline in numbers joining all of our organisations. Angling has become a ‘silver fox’ environment.”

Horn is one of a new breed of younger administrators with a hard-nosed business approach to the sport who are acutely aware that time for change is fast running out. “Next year government legislation will demand that any organisation delivering coaching, for example, will have to comply with very tight regulations for child welfare, first-aid and so on.

“We have to grow to survive and that means attracting new, and younger, anglers. We also have to be able to attract funding and that is only going to be possible if we have a centralised development structure.”

Robertson, who is being funded by the Scottish National Angling Plan currently halfway through a £335,000 three-year project to attract younger participants to recreational fishing, admits that engaging with countless thousands of anglers who are not members of any club or organisation will be difficult. A sophisticated marketing campaign is envisaged.

“We have to realise that the old ‘father to son’ approach is simply not good enough any more. We need to create a structure where angling delivers understanding and care for the environment, assists in conservation and helps develop open-minded children.”

It is important that Robertson’s drive reels them in. There are just 33,000 official members of the three angling organisations in Scotland, yet freshwater fishing is worth an estimated £113m a year to the rural economy and helps support up to 2,800 jobs.