Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 24 seconds
Everyone has a story. Goldfish may look beautiful in ornamental ponds. But in a wildlife reserve they are surprisingly deadly predators â€“ leading to big drops in dragonfly, water boatmen, water snail and frog numbers. Step forward Matthew Sherwood, the man with the painstaking task of fishing Gillespie Parkâ€™s pond clean one goldfish at a time, and then safely rehoming them. Interview by Nicola Baird
â€śPonds are fascinating,â€ť says Matthew Sherwood in his calm way looking towards the beautiful pond in Gillespie Park, just behind Arsenal tube. â€śYou can look at a water boatman and see itâ€™s evolved to have two little oars. Oars on an insect! Then you see the dragonflies in the summer and they are so gorgeous.â€ť
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Matthew, 55, has always loved nature and thatâ€™s why heâ€™s so aware that goldfish can wreck a nature pond. He points out: â€śGoldfish are bad in this particular pond because when schools come down to pond dip the kids need the experience of sticking a net in the water and catching a few insects to put in a jam jar to identify. Goldfish decimate insect life â€“ they devour anything including dragonfly larvae, beetle larvae, tadpoles and even baby newts â€“ and because itâ€™s so easy for the fish to grow they will breed when they are a year old.â€ť
Goldfish have no natural predators, so Islington Ecology Centre staff were in despair. There are signs telling visitors not to release goldfish (and they donâ€™t want other aquarium fish, piranhas or terrapins either) but nothing stopped the fish breeding and gobbling up the wildlife. Twice stun experts were called in but this meant killing all the goldfish and a hefty bill.
Luckily Matthew, an expert fisherman from east London, went on a bike ride that led him to Gillespie Park. He loved this secret park, tucked between Arsenal tube and the main Kingâ€™s Cross railway line, so much that he started to volunteer doing a variety of management tasks, including fishing the pond twice a week for the past two years.
â€śIâ€™ve caught more than 3,000 goldfish here,â€ť he says modestly admitting that they are easier to catch than most fish â€“ even during the interview he flicks out five or six. Most weeks heâ€™ll remove 100 from the Gillespie pond. They are then put in a quarantine tank for three weeks to check they are healthy and then moved to an ornamental pond in Clapton near his home.
Things Matthew Sherwood loves about Gillespie Park
- â€śItâ€™s very quiet, you can sit and not see anyone. But then the mums and dads come through and weâ€™ll have a natter. It gives me a sense of achievement working here.â€ť
- â€śWe had some kids with learning difficulties do a pond visit and they had a go fishing. They had such smiles and such a good time. Iâ€™d like Gillespie Park to do more for disabled anglers. Itâ€™s so perfect a place â€“ otherwise you have to go outside London and thereâ€™s no guarantee that you will catch anything.â€ť
- â€śI love the pond at Gillespie Park more than anything â€“ fishing or getting in with waders and clearing out stuff so things can grow.â€ť
â€śWhen I was a kid in Nottingham I watched the World About Us on TV with Jacques Cousteau â€“ from then on all I wanted to be was a diver. I got the chance to follow my dream when I joined the navy.â€ť
â€śUnfortunately I had a really bad accident diving. It perforated my ear drums so I couldnâ€™t dive any more. But it made my ear drums so sensitive the navy said I could be a sonar operator. I liked this because I could listen to the creatures in the water â€“ the whale song, dolphins and different fish. Itâ€™s unbelievable how noisy it is when fish get chatting,â€ť he says.
All the while heâ€™s got his eye on his float. If he notices a tiny tug he stands up, seems to count to 10 then flip the rod out of the water, almost always with a goldfish on it. Most are very small but they can be half a pound â€“ the biggest was three pounds.
â€śIf I could catch fish like this everywhere Iâ€™d have a few trophies in my cabinet,â€ť he says eyes flicking towards the water. No fish have been tempted in the last few minutes so he looks instead at the huge furry bee who is busy building a nest between the pond and the duck board.
â€śFishing is what brought me into understanding wildlife and the water. People need to learn to respect ponds instead of throwing in bottles and sandwich wrappers.â€ť
Matthew may look happy on the pond bank, but he still occasionally does shallow dives in rivers and ponds just to get amongst the fish. â€śKids draw aliens from other planets but many of our insects and fish are so small we donâ€™t realise weâ€™ve got a whole planet of aliens under the water.â€ť
Heâ€™s a remarkable man â€“ someone who has travelled to just about every country in the world, except Russia and China, but whose passion for fishing and wildlife is satisfied by his twice-weekly volunteering visits to this tiny pond in the heart of Islington. Good fishing Matthew!
Please note: members of the public must notÂ release fish into nature ponds. They must not use fishing rods or nets to take goldfish either as this can damage the pond liner and vegetation. Anyone wishing to remove fish from the pond or go fishingÂ needs to talk to the staff at the Islington Ecology Centre.
- Islington Ecology Centre, 191 Drayton Park, London N5. Nearest tube: Arsenal. Tel: 020 7527 4462 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The entrance gates to Gillespie Park are off Quill Street, Gillespie Road, Drayton Park and if you want a gorgeous strollÂ along the Parkland Walk extension then pop up the steps at Seven Sisters Road/Rock Street junction, just by the railway bridge.
- Become a member of the Friends of Gillespie Park, see website here.
- Dawn chorus walk onÂ Sunday 10 May 2015, starts 5am. Meet at Islington Ecology Centre. Toast and tea afterwards.
- All summer enjoy a leisurely, friendly lunch at theÂ Sunday Cafe at Islington Ecology Centre, 11am-5pm (every Sunday from Easter to Christmas).
- A tree walk is being run around Gillespie Park onÂ Sunday 17 May, 3-4pm. See the recent Islington Faces interview with tree championÂ Chris Setz here.
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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