A HIGH level 'secret conference' on the otter issue and other predators has been held - with some very interesting revelations.
Over 40 delegates attended the workshop day at prolific carp bagging venue Barston Lakes in the West Midlands, and the otter issue was a key topic of discussion.
Otters receive the highest protection possible, as a European protected species under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 Act.
But the day, jointly held by the Angling Trust and the Institute of Fisheries Management, did raise the controversial idea of culling otters.
Delegates from the Environment Agency and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attended.
Otters continue to decimate river and lake fish, and a recent report found a reduction of 94 per cent of water voles – again linked to the rise of otters.
Cormorants also under scrutiny
Conference attendee Paul Floyd, who runs the National Predator Survey Project, told Angler’s Mail: “It was a very constructive meeting and there was agreement of the need for an increase in the number of cormorants that can be culled.
“The problem has been mainly caused by the European sub-species that come over here in droves to over-winter increasing the 9,000 pair resident population to around 40,000, and they prefer inland waters.
“One of the problems is ignorance and many people still thinking the birds are native and have come inland because of lack of fish in the sea.
“Currently only about 10 per cent of the birds on any one site can be shot so if you have 20 that means only two can legally be taken out.”
Crayfish and otter issues
“The EA more or less admitted that the signal crayfish situation is beyond effective control,” said Paul.
“As far as otters are concerned, given their protective status, all possible measures are probably in place although we would want the rehabilitation of injured otters done under licensed control.
“Unfortunately with DEFFRA pre-occupied with Brexit at the moment the chances of a lot changing soon aren’t very high.
“It is clear that there is a possible way to legally cull otters at least on stillwaters, but there are huge impediments.
“Under Article 16 of the European Habitat a mitigation licence can obtained by a landowner to cull a member of a protected species if it is seriously damaging their livestock.
“Fisheries are no different in this regard so a stillwater fishery could apply for a licence to shoot an otter, and these could be obtained from Natural England.
“But understandably fisheries are very reluctant to be seen as shooting a popular furry animal and there is a high standard of proof that there is no alternative like fencing, and substantial damage before a licence is issued.
“Talking to the Otter Trust I believe that only three applications have ever been made, and all were turned down.
“A report just published by Natural England and the Mammal Trust says there are now an estimated 11,000 otters distributed widely around the country and there status is now regarded as favourable,” added Paul.
Group action on otter and cormorant matters
Meanwhile, the Predator Action Group are urging anglers to lobby their MP’s with the threat anglers are facing from otters and cormorants.
They want anglers to forward on their new new fact sheet plus a DVD entitled ‘Predation: an Ecological Disaster’ which they are selling for £6.50 via their website.
Tim Paisley, chairman of the PAG said: “The intention of producing this is to make the body of research and evidence detailing the impact of predation more accessible.
“If they find their way into the hands of your MP, so much the better. We will include a suggested letter to go with submissions to MPs with the Fact Sheets and films purchased.
“The Fact Sheet is a prelude to the publication of ‘Big Picture Two: Some Unwelcome Truths About Predation’, which will deliver further details of the growing body of evidence of the extent of the problem,” he added.
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