Matthew Sherwood: fisherman

6 May

Everyone has a story. Goldfish may look beautiful in ornamental ponds. But in a wildlife reserve they are surprisingly deadly predators – 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 Park’s pond clean one goldfish at a time, and then safely rehoming them. Interview by Nicola Baird

 

Matthew Sherwood

Matthew Sherwood, volunteer, has caught and removed more than 3,000 goldfish from the pond at Gillespie Park. Fishing is for management purposes – members of the public are not allowed to do this at Islington Ecology Centre. Please talk to staff if you want to remove fish.

“Ponds are fascinating,” says Matthew Sherwood in his calm way looking towards the beautiful pond in Gillespie Park, just behind Arsenal tube. “You can look at a water boatman and see it’s evolved to have two little oars. Oars on an insect! Then you see the dragonflies in the summer and they are so gorgeous.”

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Matthew, 55, has always loved nature and that’s why he’s so aware that goldfish can wreck a nature pond. He points out: “Goldfish 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 – they devour anything including dragonfly larvae, beetle larvae, tadpoles and even baby newts – and because it’s so easy for the fish to grow they will breed when they are a year old.”

Before Matthew Sherwood started fishing twice a week at Gillespie Park’s pond there were so many goldfish that y§ou can even see them in this photo. Goldfish destroy wildlife in a nature pond and should never be released into the wild. They can be happy though in an outdoor ornamental pond. © Islington Council

Goldfish are a problem. Before Matthew Sherwood started fishing twice a week at Gillespie Park’s pond there were so many goldfish that you can even see them in this photo. Goldfish destroy wildlife in a nature pond and should never be released into the wild. They can be happy though in an outdoor ornamental pond. © Islington Council

Goldfish have no natural predators, so Islington Ecology Centre staff were in despair. There are signs telling visitors not to release goldfish (and they don’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.

Matthew Sherwood: xx

Fisherman Matthew Sherwood: happy on the pond bank.

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 King’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.

“I’ve caught more than 3,000 goldfish here,” he says modestly admitting that they are easier to catch than most fish – even during the interview he flicks out five or six. Most weeks he’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.

Wildlife management volunteer at Gillespie Park Matthew Sherwood: “There’s a good crowd in the office at the Islington Ecology Centre. They are always helpful and if they don’t know the insect or bird I’ve spotted they will look it up.” (c) Islington Council

Wildlife management volunteer at Gillespie Park Matthew Sherwood says: “There’s a good crowd in the office at the Islington Ecology Centre. They are always helpful and if they don’t know the insect or bird I’ve spotted they will look it up.” (c) Islington Council

Things Matthew Sherwood loves about Gillespie Park

  • “It’s very quiet, you can sit and not see anyone. But then the mums and dads come through and we’ll have a natter. It gives me a sense of achievement working here.”
  • “We 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. I’d like Gillespie Park to do more for disabled anglers. It’s so perfect a place – otherwise you have to go outside London and there’s no guarantee that you will catch anything.”
  • I love the pond at Gillespie Park more than anything – fishing or getting in with waders and clearing out stuff so things can grow.”
Matthew Sherwood: “Don’t just walk past the pond, sit for an hour and you’ll see wildlife all around you the robins are so friendly and I love to see the beautiful jays, there’s normally three or four who come around.” Can you see the robin on his mug?

Matthew Sherwood: “Don’t just walk past the pond, sit for an hour and you’ll see wildlife all around you the robins are so friendly and I love to see the beautiful jays, there’s normally three or four who come around.” Can you see the robin on his mug?

Underwater world
“When I was a kid in Nottingham I watched the World About Us on TV with Jacques Cousteau – from then on all I wanted to be was a diver. I got the chance to follow my dream when I joined the navy.”

“Unfortunately I had a really bad accident diving. It perforated my ear drums so I couldn’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 – the whale song, dolphins and different fish. It’s unbelievable how noisy it is when fish get chatting,” he says.

All the while he’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 – the biggest was three pounds.

“If I could catch fish like this everywhere I’d have a few trophies in my cabinet,” 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.

“Fishing 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.”

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. “Kids draw aliens from other planets but many of our insects and fish are so small we don’t realise we’ve got a whole planet of aliens under the water.”

He’s a remarkable man – 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 not 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 fishing 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 ecologycentre@islington.gov.uk. The entrance gates to Gillespie Park are off Quill Street, Gillespie Road, Drayton Park and if you want a gorgeous stroll 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 on Sunday 10 May 2015, starts 5am. Meet at Islington Ecology Centre. Toast and tea afterwards.
  • All summer enjoy a leisurely, friendly lunch at the Sunday Cafe at Islington Ecology Centre, 11am-5pm (every Sunday from Easter to Christmas).
  • A tree walk is being run around Gillespie Park on Sunday 17 May, 3-4pm. See the recent Islington Faces interview with tree champion Chris Setz here.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

 

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One Response to “Matthew Sherwood: fisherman”

  1. nicolabairdgreen May 14, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    email feedback:
    I’m glad to see you interviewed the fisherman. What a character.

    Great post! Thanks

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