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Government dismisses Otter Petition but Trust continues to press Natural England over otter releases

26.02.18

Swimming Otter x 550

Last week the Government dismissed the 11,000 signature Barbel Society petition calling for ‘non lethal control’ of the UK’s otter population and refused to recognise that their numbers can be ‘detrimental to the river environment’. It firmly ruled out the prospect of any controls on numbers.

The Government response states:

While the Government understand concerns raised about the impact otters may have on fish populations, they are a protected species and there are no plans to introduce methods to control their numbers.

The Government understands that there are concerns that otters may have adverse impacts on fish populations and wildlife more generally but we do not accept that the otter ‘has become a detriment to the river environment’.

They also made clear that with the current high level of legal protection afforded to the otter even ‘non lethal control’, as proposed by the petition, would constitute a criminal offence.

Otters are a protected species and it is an offence to harm, capture, kill, disturb or injure any animal and/or damage, destroy or obstruct their resting or sheltering places. Therefore any methods of control, including non-lethal methods, would constitute an offence.

Despite holding a joint meeting with the Barbel Society on the subject of otter predation in October 2017 and repeatedly pressing its current management for a clear position statement on what they were seeking to achieve, the Angling Trust has received no response and was not consulted on either the wording or the wisdom of launching this petition.

However, the Trust has committed to press Natural England to take action to end the unregulated release of otters which have been ‘rehabilitated’ after sustaining injuries from cars or fighting between themselves. These animals are currently released into the environment without any consultation or consideration of their impacts on nearby fisheries.

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd has now met with James Cross, Chief Executive of Natural England who has agreed to pursue the issue with his technical specialists, working with the Angling Trust’s Head of Freshwater, Mark Owen.

In his letter to Natural England Mark Lloyd wrote:

There are also concerns that they are released into territories already occupied by wild otters which could lead to greater pressure on fisheries and also a greater likelihood of fighting between animals. There is currently no stakeholder consultation about where they are subsequently released back in to the wild. We understand that some are kept in adverse conditions e.g. ‘hobby zoos’ and believe that regulation of this sector is much needed.

The Angling Trust will continue to work with fisheries and clubs to help them protect their waters from predation by supporting fencing for stillwaters and fish refuges in rivers. It is our belief that campaigning to protect the water environment from pollution, over-abstraction and damage to spawning and refuge habitat is the most sensible and realistic approach to protecting fish stocks in rivers. These measures have widespread public and political support, and are more achievable than the lethal or ‘non-lethal’ control of otters.

Commenting on these latest developments Mark Lloyd said:

“The Government’s rejection of this petition was entirely predictable and it, along with many of the comments about it on social media, will have damaged the reputation of angling in the eyes of the public and politicians. We very much regret that the Barbel Society acted without any consultation with ourselves or any other organisation with expertise in fishery management or political lobbying. We were consequently unable to support the petition. Even the most pro-angling MP in parliament told us that the petition would achieve nothing.”

He added:

“However, despite this obvious setback we will do our best to convince decision makers that the return of otters in such large numbers is having a detrimental impact on a number of rivers and stillwaters and we will continue to work with others to try to limit any damage through sensible and practical measures which will not damage the reputation of angling in the public eye.”

Useful links:

Petition wording and Government response

The Angling Trust position statement on otter predation

Notes:

Angling Trust response to the Barbel Society petition:

The Angling Trust was not consulted on the wording of this petition despite holding a meeting with the Barbel Society on otter predation in October 2017 and agreeing to work together through the Angling Trust’s specialist angling group on this issue, which involves numerous other organisations.

Whilst this petition will no doubt provide a useful snapshot of anglers’ frustrations with the impacts of otter predation, there is a danger that the wording and lack of clarity about what is meant by “non-lethal means of control” will either be misinterpreted or dismissed out of hand by government ministers. The Angling Trust has written to the Society asking for clarification but as this has not been forthcoming we are therefore unable to support this petition in its current form, but we do understand and share many of the concerns raised by its authors.

The Angling Trust is actively pursuing with Natural England and the Environment Agency a number of measures to manage the impact of otters on fisheries, as agreed with the Barbel Society last year.

The Angling Trust & Fish Legal continue to deliver a wide range of campaigns and legal action focussed on improving water quality, restoring healthy river flows and habitat in our rivers so that fish stocks are better placed to withstand the pressures of all forms of predation.

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