Cormorants remain a major issue

John Bailey and Jack hold a gorgeous common carp picked up on the surface.

John Bailey and Jack hold a gorgeous common carp picked up on the surface. - Credit: Archant

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Last week's Angler's Mail was full of news that the RSPB is once again defending the right of foreign cormorants to do as they wish on our rivers and stillwaters. I have long been a member of the RSPB because I love my birding so I will remain in the organisation, but I do despair of its rigid, blinkered and militant stance on so many issues.

In this particular news story, the RSPB was maintaining that cormorant numbers are not rising and that the damage they do is peripheral. I am out on the River Wensum each and every day through the autumn and winter and numbers of the birds certainly rose this year just gone. Of course, it's easy for the RSPB to quote any statistics that they want without fear of rebuttal.

What the RSPB does not seem capable of realising is the fact that once cormorants have stripped a river or a stillwater of fish then so many other creatures struggle. I can think of an endless number of Wensum gravel pits where there are no fish and where, therefore, there are no kingfishers, grebes or herons. As the gravels choke with weed without fish to clean them, fly life diminishes dramatically. You don't see swallows, swifts, martins or bats there any more either. In fact, if the RSPB wants to see more moribund aquatic habitats in the coming years, then it will continue to support the cormorant. Is that what its members really want?

As Norfolk anglers, we have another gremlin beginning to stretch itself. Along with cormorants, there is no doubt in my mind that the other most calamitous thing to affect our rivers during my lifetime was the deep dredging that took place until a few years back.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many of us began to realise that savage dredging was the ecological disaster it is now widely recognized to be. Deep dredging destroys the entire river topography. It sweeps away gravels and spawning beds and refuge for small fish. It destroys food sources for fish and waterfowl alike. Bankside vegetation is crippled and, experience proves, that flooding is not actually even made less likely as a result. Moreover, deep dredging of the old style makes flooding down the river, often in cities, even more likely and even more serious.

There cannot, therefore, be a single solitary argument in support of bringing the dredgers back out of retirement but, appallingly, there are whispers in the wind. We've seen over the past couple of years that this government of ours is not good at being strong, but is weak when it comes to standing up to pressure groups.

This is where we anglers, all of us, need the Angling Trust. I don't care if you are a sea angler, a trout angler, a carp angler, a predator angler, a match angler or just a general angler. You need to join.

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The RSPB has over a million anglers and is financially and politically powerful. It holds huge sway over the media, over public opinion and at Westminster. If there was ever a stand-up battle between the RSPB and the angling fraternity, the former, for years, has had a complete walk-over success. There are supposed to be two million plus anglers in this country. If we all join the Angling Trust then it will have the support and the funds to bare its teeth as savagely as the RSPB does with frightening frequency.

On a much happier note, I had the most magnificent day down in the Wensum Valley with young Jack Whyman, surface fishing for carp. He picked up three simply gorgeous mid-double commons and his dad drove him home as though the car were travelling on air. Young Jack is an avid fan of the Crabtree series and the day I spent with him just reinforced how great it is to take kids out and to watch their triumphs.

Jack pronounced our day the very best one of his entire life. Considering his dad had just taken him to the Nou Camp in Spain to watch Barcelona play a league match, I take that as something of a compliment! Yep, angling is up there with football and all the rest as one of the captivating sports of the world.

And talking of Crabtree, can I remind everyone ALL six episodes of series one are being shown back to back on Sunday, June 16, Father's Day 1pm-7pm on Quest, Channel 38 Freeview, 154 Sky and 172 Virgin.

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