Two Angling Trust volunteer bailiffs on the lookout for illegal activity at a river in Northampton rescued an elderly man stuck in mud and up to his chest in water.
Area Co-ordinator Vanessa Warner and fellow volunteer bailiff Steve Allen had stumbled across a pair of trainers and a dog lead at the top of a steep bank when they heard a commotion in the thick reed beds below.
Beating a path through the overgrown weeds and nettles, Vanessa and Steve peered over the reeds and were amazed to find the grey-haired chap unable to free himself from the riverbed and with water up to his chest.
He told the pair he had been trying to free his nine-year-old dog who had become trapped in the reeds when he fell from the bank into the water. He had been in the water for about 30 minutes when the volunteer bailiffs found him and was feeling very cold.
Vanessa and Steve kept the man calm as they lay down across the nettles to grab hold of his leather belt. After a few attempts they were able to free him sufficiently to enable him to scramble out of the water to the safety of the bank.
With the man still worried about his dog, Vanessa and Steve then freed the tired, scared animal from the reeds further downstream.
Concerned for the man’s welfare, Vanessa and Steve suggested they call an ambulance, but he declined saying he just wanted to get himself and his dog back home and promising to seek medical assistance later if needed.
Vanessa, a recent recipient of an Angling Trust Volunteering Excellence Award, said: “Somebody must have been looking out for this man because no-one really goes down there. Being on a VBS patrol probably saved this man and his dog. He was so very tired and cold when we got him out.”
Steve said: “If we hadn’t been there at that time, there could easily have been a totally different outcome as he was in a really difficult situation with no chance of getting out on his own and totally hidden from view.”
Vanessa and Steve had been patrolling the river after a local resident had told them they had seen “something odd happening” in a very rural area known locally as Mill Lane, a river that runs from nearby Pitsford reservoir and through Northampton before joining the River Nene.
Mill Lane is a remote area that has very few visitors with the steep banks very overgrown. Despite this, both Vanessa and Steve were able to locate illegal crayfish traps and set lines along one of the banks, tied to electrical wiring, nylon washing lines and old ropes hidden by undergrowth.
None of the eight traps they found had otter guards attached but one contained a small pike which was safely returned to the water. It was while continuing their search on the opposite bank they stumbled across the man and his dog.
The Voluntary Bailiff Service is part of the Angling Trust’s Fisheries Enforcement Support Service and is funded from fishing licence income as part of the National Angling Strategic Services contract with the Environment Agency.
Paul Thomas, Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Manager for the East of England, said: “This sort of action by our valued volunteers serves to further prove just how much of an asset to the rural community our Voluntary Bailiff Service actually is. People think that we deal only with fishing related matters but, as demonstrated by Vanessa and Steve, being the rural community’s eyes and ears along our watercourses means that our volunteers are able and willing to react to a wide range of situations.
“On this occasion, Vanessa and Steve have disrupted serious illegal activity and saved someone’s life. I commend them for their awareness and have no doubt that their prompt actions saved the lives of both the gentleman and his dog that day.”
Karen Hinson, Angling Trust’s National Volunteers Manager, added: “Well done to Vanessa and Steve for their heroic action that day, another example in a growing number where our volunteers have potentially gone above and beyond to help others. Whilst I am extremely pleased that everyone involved came away relatively unscathed from this incident, I think it also serves as a reminder of how hazardous our waterways can be even at this time of year and the caution that is required particularly when alone.”
Some of the recovered traps and lines