Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast candidate SAC, England

Budle Bay, Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, Northumberland

Boulmer Haven, Northumberland

Newton Haven, Northumberland

Collection of intertidal animals takes place from both sediment and rocky shores on the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast. Bait digging in the area, mainly for lugworms, has been the subject of extensive study and legal regulation in the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and Boulmer Haven. Additionally, virtually every accessible intertidal reef is exploited by commercial and recreational users who collect winkles, mussels and crabs by hand.

There are some important case studies on bait digging within this cSAC.

Budle Bay, Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, Northumberland.

Bait digging has been carried out in the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve (NNR) since at least the 1960s, and probably much earlier. This activity is concentrated in the winter months which is the period of greatest demand for lugworm as angling bait. In the late 1970s, concern was voiced over the impact on bird populations of the rising numbers of bait diggers operating both by day and by night in Budle Bay, the sanctuary area of the NNR. The Nature Conservancy Council proposed banning bait digging in the area except by permit for local fishermen with effect from October 1978. The ban was deferred pending discussions with the National Anglers Council and Northern Federation of Sea Anglers Society (NFSAS), but it became apparent that action was needed when local landowners complained of crop damage by geese displaced from the Bay and a lessor of part of the NNR threatened not to renew his lease.

A compromise agreement was reached with angling groups in the region to close Budle Bay to bait digging for two years, from September 1982 to September 1984. Meanwhile, bait digging would be permitted on Fenham Flats, on either side of the main Lindisfarne Causeway. The effect of the agreement on lugworm stocks and bird numbers would be monitored throughout this period, and if bait stocks on Fenham Flats were found to be inferior, part of the Bay would be reopened for a two year trial period. During the initial period of closure, bird numbers increased in the Bay.

Because lugworm densities and worm sizes were significantly lower on the Flats, and this area also a longer journey for most anglers, an experimental bait digging zone in Budle Bay was reopened to bait digging in September 1984, with support from the NFSAS. The initiation of the experiment not only coincided with the autumn/winter season of peak demand for bait and lowest natural population density of lugworm, but also with a coal miners’ strike during the first 6 months of the trial. The result was high levels of commercial bait digging, as well as collection by anglers visiting the area from as far as 30-100 miles away. Intensive bait digging (by up to 120 persons at one time) took place, removing virtually all lugworm from the experimental area within about eight weeks from reintroduction of bait digging. Some 25% of bait diggers present in January 1985 (and 50% of those in January 1987, well after the miners’ strike) were observed digging outside the agreed zone. Other infringements of the agreement included a lack of backfilling and use of artificial lights. Bird numbers using the Bay also fell significantly, mainly because of disturbance caused by the presence of bait diggers, excluding the birds from feeding grounds, rather than because of the effects of digging on their infaunal prey items (the areas of mudflat favoured by feeding birds coincide with those favoured by bait diggers). Unanticipated impacts of bait digging at this site included damage to commercial mussel beds operated under licence in the Bay and the mobilisation of heavy metals (lead and cadmium) in the deep sediment, which were then taken up by burrowing invertebrates.

The experiment clearly demonstrated that bait digging activity was incompatible with the aims of the sanctuary area and Budle Bay was closed again to bait digging from September 1987. This was effected under the NNR byelaws, made in 1968, which prohibit various acts except as authorised by permit, including ‘molesting or wilfully disturbing, injuring or killing any living creature’, and was largely effective. Despite the virtual depletion of dug areas, lugworm numbers recovered very rapidly after bait digging ceased at the site, as a result of immigration of adults from adjacent unexploited sites. Bird numbers using the area after the second closure also rose considerably.

The 1992 judgement in Anderson v. Alnwick District Council, that bait digging for personal use was ancillary to the right to fish (see below), nullified the NNR byelaw 2(1)(a) as regards bait digging for personal use, and identified problems with the seaward extent of the NNR byelaws. It resulted in an upsurge of digging during the late summer and autumn of 1993. English Nature initially considered simply amending the byelaws to take account of this judgement, but because this would take some time, issued a Nature Conservation Order (NCO) in October 1993 to restore control over baitdigging in Budle Bay immediately. The NCO was seen to be largely effective after a few weeks. The NCO and the proposed amendment to the Lindisfarne NNR byelaws were opposed by representatives of four sea angling federations, and a Public Inquiry held in March 1994. The Inspector, however, upheld the Nature Conservation Order and modifications suggested by English Nature, which included defining the Order’s seaward extent to a vertical depth of 6m  m below the low water mark, and broadening the restriction to include "removal of fauna for use of bait whether by digging or by any means" (thus covering the use of, e.g. bait pumps - and incidentally peeler crabs) (Langton 1994).

Because the worm stocks at Fenham Flats, to which baitdiggers were provided open access, are not as good a source of bait as Budle Bay (although possibly adequate for personal bait, if not for commercial collection), and were further to the north, on occasions that Budle Bay has been closed to bait digging (particularly in 1982 and 1985), some bait digging activity has been redirected to other southern locations. Notable among these were Boulmer Haven and Newton Haven (see below), where bait digging had not previously been such a problem. This redirection of bait collection activity to other sites in the area (up to or exceeding a distance of 100 miles away) is likely to take place whenever restrictions are imposed at a favoured site. This case study also demonstrates the major limitation of voluntary agreements with user groups - not all individuals undertaking bait collection activity are members of these groups and/or willing to for their activities to be restricted in this way.

Boulmer Haven, Northumberland

Bait digging in Boulmer Haven has been a source of concern to local fishermen launching their cobles across the beach for many years. The holes and rocks left on the shore by bait diggers make launching difficult, and are potentially damaging to boats and tractors. For this reason, the Northumberland Estates (owners of the foreshore) placed notices prohibiting bait digging in the launching area, but permitted bait digging anywhere else on foreshore owned by the Duke of Northumberland. An upsurge in digging activity occurred when the Budle Bay bird sanctuary area was closed to bait diggers in 1982 and again in the winter of 1984/85. During the latter period, up to 100-200 people a day were reported collecting lugworm in the Haven.

As a result of the increased problems being caused to local fishermen, in 1985 the Alnwick District Council adopted Section 82 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act (1907) to enable the enactment of a byelaw stating that ‘without lawful right or authority no person shall in any part of the restricted area dig for ragworms or for any form of fishing bait’. The restricted area was defined in the text as ‘such parts of the Boulmer Haven as lie above the low-water line’. Before approving these byelaws the Secretary of State asked for a map of the prohibited area. The District Council provided a copy of the Ordnance Survey map of the area, with the area of restriction hatched. This area extended down to the line printed on the map as the ‘low water mean meridian tide line’. The approved byelaws were returned in March 1996 with the map attached, and published with a reproduction of it.

During a period of extreme low water spring tide in February 1990, bait digging took place in an area of exposed beach lying just below the mean low water mark as defined on the Ordnance Survey map. A bait digger was charged with fishing ‘within the restricted area identified in the byelaws’ and convicted by the Alnwick Justices in November 1990. The bait digger appealed to the Newcastle Crown Court against this judgement. His appeal included the following submissions: that the geographical scope of the byelaws should be interpreted by reference to the map, and that he was not digging within the area hatched on the map; that the byelaws were prohibitory, not regulatory, because they banned baitdigging throughout the Haven and not just in the launching area; and that baitdigging for personal use was a common law right, making the byelaws repugnant to the laws of the land.

This appeal was heard by the Crown Court in May 1991, and dismissed, upholding the conviction. The Court decided, inter alia, that: the foreshore or seashore lies between the high water mark and the low water mark, wherever that may be, and the map did not form part of the byelaws; the byelaws were not prohibitory, merely regulatory of the beaches within the local authority area; if there is a public right to fish in the sea, the right to dig bait on the foreshore is not ancillary thereto; and the byelaws were not repugnant to the common law.

A second appeal was heard in December 1992 (Anderson v. Alnwick D.C., 1992 - 1 WLR 1156). The judges concluded that the map did form part of the byelaws, and allowed the appeal on this basis. However, they also agreed that, in the absence of such a map, the restricted area defined by the text of the byelaws would extend to the fluctuating low water line as it is at any time, not just at mean low water.

The judges also held "that a public right to take worms from the foreshore is recognised by the common law and may be properly be described as ancillary to the public right to fish. ... But it does not follow that the right is unrestricted or that it may be exercised by any member of the public at any time or place ... This means that in our judgement, that the taking of worms must be directly related to an actual or intended exercise of the public right to fish. Taking for commercial purposes such as sale clearly is not justified in this way. ...The rule, as we would state it, is that bait-digging on the foreshore is justified by the public right to take fish, when the bait is taken on or on behalf of persons who require it for use in the exercise of that right." This judgement caused a temporary increase in bait digging activity at Budle Bay, Lindisfarne NNR, where one of the original NNR byelaws was nullified by the judgement (see above).

Finally, the court concluded that the Alnwick byelaws were regulatory, not prohibitive, because Boulmer Haven was only a limited area, a small part of the foreshore within the local authority area, and an even smaller part of the Northumbrian foreshore. Although the area affected was larger than fishermen would like, it did not "prohibit them obtaining worms reasonably close by". These judgements are summarised in Evans, L.J. and Macpherson of Cluny J. (1993).

Following this judgement, the District Council has not been attempting to enforce the existing byelaw, which has not yet been repealed. Instead, a number of meetings have been organised between the District Council, the Duke of Northumberland Estate, local police, national and regional sea angling organisations, the Environment Agency and local fishermen from Boulmer in an attempt to resolve the situation. The local fishermen who launch from the Haven had been most severely inconvenienced by bait digging activity and were strongly in favour of a complete ban on the activity over the whole beach. Angling representatives, however, stated that they would litigate against such a ban. A satisfactory solution for all parties now appears to have been reached, with good publicity having been obtained in the specialist angling and national press. The District Council has drawn up a new byelaw dividing the beach into two parts. The demarcation line to be established across the beach will be marked not only on a map, but also by a line of painted boulders on the shore (these are necessary for enforcement because so much digging is carried out at night). Bait digging for personal use by anglers will be permitted to the south of this line, but prohibited to the north where launching of fishing vessels and the lifeboat takes place and moorings are located. No commercial bait digging will be tolerated anywhere on the shore.

The new draft byelaw has been approved by the Home Office and forwarded by the local police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), with a request that the CPS (rather than the District Council) undertake any necessary prosecution of offenders once the byelaw is made. If the CPS also approve the draft, it will be made by the District Council and advertised for comment. Following the previous detailed consultation with fishermen and anglers, the District Council does not anticipate any serious objections. Once any objections have been considered, and resolved as necessary, the byelaw will be sent to the Home Office for approval by the Secretary of State. Signs will be erected in the village and the markers established on the shore.

This case study is a very good example of a compromise solution that appears to fulfil the needs of all parties. It is therefore a useful model for resolving the needs of bait collectors and other users within a single site through zonation, with the backing of legislation enabling the agreement to be enforced. In the latter respect, it differs from the case study at Budle Bay where the zonation agreement was entirely voluntary and could not be enforced, resulting in complete closure of this area of shore to bait collectors. However, the case study also highlights one of the drawbacks of resorting to legal means to enforce zonation: it takes many years of consulation before such byelaws can be made.

Acknowledgements: Tony Farrell, Legal Department, Alnwick District Council.

Newton Haven, Northumberland

The National Trust leases land and foreshore at Newton Haven, where a small beach has attracted bait diggers in the past. Numbers increased following the introduction of controls at Budle Bay in 1982, to up to 15 diggers at a time (a significant number in such a small area) travelling 20 to 50 miles to the site. A ban using standard National Trust byelaws in 1983 and an attempted prosecution reduced the number of diggers to an average of about four. These bait diggers worked below the level of low water of spring tides (outside the original limits of the leased area) where damage was caused to populations of burrowing sea urchins, razor shells and associated fauna that were of scientific interest. The National Trust subsequently applied successfully to the Crown Estates Commissioners for a lease of the seabed in order to control yacht moorings in the Haven and bait digging carried out at the bottom of the shore.

A small amount of bait digging still occurs in the Haven, where policy is now for National Trust wardens to approach baitdiggers, explain that the byelaws exist, that the low shore areas are of scientific interest, and ask them to dig elsewhere. No recent attempts have been made to prosecute bait diggers because of the expense of prosecutions and potential difficulty of success. Recently, a meeting has been held with a number of anglers’ representatives, and a proposal for management has been received. The National Trust will consider this in consultation with anglers and with other recreational, nature conservation and local authority representatives.

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