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Natural England Bureaucrats Block Humane Seal Rescue

27.10.13

severn seal.jpg

Anglers on the River Severn are dismayed after a golden opportunity to capture and return to sea a rogue seal in the river was missed because government officials at Natural England have not yet issued the necessary licence to the Angling Trust.

The Trust, which is the unified representative body for anglers, is coordinating efforts to remove the marine mammal from the river in order to protect an important freshwater fishery. The seal entered Diglis lock alongside a boat today, and was retained by the lock keeper, but had to be released because the necessary paperwork has not been provided by Natural England, the government regulator.

The Angling Trust has, over the past months, secured the agreement of the Canal and River Trust to allow the seal to be captured on their property, and has persuaded experts from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity to attempt a rescue of the animal if it could be trapped in a lock, so that it can be returned to the sea hundreds of miles away from the Severn. The Trust then secured Environment Agency support for its application for a licence to capture the animal on the basis of damage to the fishery, and submitted the paperwork several weeks ago. On Thursday last week, an official from Natural England contacted the Angling Trust to advise that more evidence would be required of the damage that the seal was doing to fish stocks before a licence could be issued. The lower River Severn is a very large, muddy river, and fish surveys are not practicable.

The seal has been eating its way through fish stocks on the river for up to a year. It disappeared for several months, but appears to have taken up residence in the freshwater environment and it is having a major impact on fishing. It has been seen eating salmon, barbel, pike, zander, chub and ducks. It may also be eating highly protected and endangered twaite shad that migrate into the river in the spring from the sea.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “An official from Natural England contacted me last week asking us to provide evidence of the damage to fish stocks and to quantify the financial impact on angling club revenues. He suggested that we should apply the same criteria for assessing damage that Natural England require for a cormorant licence under the old system. I could hardly believe my ears. He admitted that he had no expertise in fisheries and that he was a terrestrial ecologist. I told him that the Environment Agency had conceded that the animal was having a local impact on the fishery and that they supported our application, and I put him in touch with my contacts there. We are all very disappointed that this opportunity to capture the seal humanely has been missed and we will continue to do all that we can to navigate through the last few stages of the bureaucratic maze to get this seal safely back out to sea where it belongs.”

He added:
“This really is bureaucracy gone mad and shows how out of touch some of the people are at Natural England when it comes to angling and fisheries. Anglers come from all over the country to fish the River Severn and contribute to the local economy. It should be a simple business to issue a licence for experts to return a marine mammal humanely to the sea and get it out of a freshwater environment where it is obviously eating very large quantities of specimen fish.”
    
 

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