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Cormorant Crisis

Government change of heart may come too late

The British government is to amend its cormorant policy after strong pressure from the RSPB but 1500 birds may already have been shot! On 16 September 2004 the Government announced a new policy on the control of cormorants in England. This policy was intended to reduce the national wintering cormorant population by up to 15 per cent. Unlike previous policies, fisheries managers did not have to provide evidence that cormorants were seriously damaging their fishery. Under intense pressure, the Government has since amended the wording of this policy. Significantly, it is no longer sufficient for cormorants to merely be present in an area for them to be killed. Some evidence that they are causing damage to fish stocks is now required before licences to kill birds will be issued. As a consequence of these welcome amendments, the RSPB withdrew its threat to legally challenge the government`s cormorant policy.

The RSPB is outraged that the Government has licensed the killing of 1500 cormorants in England in a misguided attempt to protect the sport of angling. Intense RSPB lobbying has pushed the Government to amend its policy on the control of cormorants in England, to ensure it met legal requirements. However, the number of cormorants licensed to be killed continues to increase, and the RSPB fears it could even double to reach 3000 individuals, despite the fact there are only 3145 pairs of cormorant nesting in England.Julian Hughes, the RSPB`s head of species conservation, said: Whilst we are relieved that some of the serious flaws in Defra`s original policy have been addressed, we are extremely concerned that 1500 birds have been allowed to be killed already, and that this figure is likely to grow. We will challenge Government to ensure that this killing will not threaten the bird`s conservation status, and we want to see the licensing system made more transparent to ensure that licences to kill cormorants are not being issued needlessly or illegally.

Julian Hughes added: Government, angling and conservation bodies have a responsibility to work together to continue to improve our wetlands for wildlife and to develop non-lethal ways to sustain fish populations to ensure a positive future for both angling and cormorants.

[The recovery of the cormorant population in England has led to claims that the birds are damaging angling interests by eating fish. Research into the impact of cormorants on fisheries, much of it funded by the taxpayer, does not support the case for wide scale control of the birds.]

NB Fish refuges are structures which may be positioned in a water body to provide cover for fish, and are an extremely effective way of protecting a fishery from predation by cormorants. Defra`s own research has shown that these structures may reduce cormorant predation by up to 86 per cent!

4th July 2014