Otter numbers not problem

Broads anglers may regard the year 2011 as rather special.

For, as flood relief work along the tidal embankments progressed, new stretches of free fishing became available along the rivers Ant, Bure, Thurne and Yare.

And the icing on this celebration cake was the Environment Agency report that native fish stocks in this rich, fertile area of natural beauty had become self-sustaining and able to support populations of otters, bitterns, herons, kingfishers, great crested grebes and other itinerant fish predators that visit one of the highest-rated winter nature reserves in the northern hemisphere.

On the down side, against expert advice and popular opinion, including the majority of anglers, there remains this deafening din from a vociferous minority to cull otters regardless of the fall-out and damage to the respectable image of Isaac Walton's gentle art.

Kim Chambers, from Brundall, felt she was speaking for a number of parents when she said: 'My two children love all forms of wildlife, including their favourite Tarka the otter. They are taught about the Broads flora and fauna at school and I would want to think of my son going fishing when he is old enough. I would not be so keen if he was ever likely to be influenced by the hooligans who want to kill some of my kids' favourite wild animals.'

Unfortunately, spurious statistics are being quoted concerning the otter populations that are stretching credibility and, indeed, the length of the River Wensum to ridiculous proportions, claiming that 70 breeding pairs of otters and their families are wiping out the barbel and chub there. In fact, the River Wensum from its source near Raynham to its confluence with the River Yare at Trowse measures 71km.

Otters are fiercely territorial and, according to expert zoologists writing in the New Scientist, one male otter and its mate dominate around 10km of river, chasing off all interlopers and fighting alien mink to the death.

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It does not require a maths degree to calculate that the Wensum supports on average no more than seven breeding pairs in any one year.

Every local Broad and river is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

Otters and other endangered species therein are protected by the Bern Convention 1979, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the EC Habitats Directive 1992, the Natural Habitat Regulations 1994, the UK Biodensity Plan and the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000.

In a joint categoric statement, the Angling Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency declared: 'There is no case for culling or trapping otters which enjoy full protection under international and national legislation.'

The Angling Trust chief executive officer, Mark Lloyd, responding to the formation of a predator action group last year, added: 'Fishing will not triumph in a fight involving the control of otters. The best thing to do is push hard for more funding for fencing and other means of protecting large waters.'

Sensible fishery owners and angling clubs have installed effective otter proof fencing but no one doubts that alien chub and barbel that were mistakenly stocked in the River Wensum, paid for by the many to benefit the few, are vulnerable.

The laws in force now prohibit:

• Killing otters recklessly or deliberately or injuring them.

• Deliberately or recklessly disturbing or harassing them.

• Destroying the animal's access to breeding sites or resting places.

Recent surveys discovered that nearly 80pc of the British public regarded the otter as their favourite mammal and no political party would ever alienate so many voters to satisfy the whims of an insignificant, non-representative group of anti-otter campaigners.

So, Mrs Chambers, when the new term starts tell the other mums that Tarka is safe.

• From the general anglers' viewpoint, there was encouraging news last year for pike enthusiasts with solid evidence that the River Thurne waters contain dozens of young fish into the low teens.

As reported, Great Yarmouth lure angler Roger Nolan bagged around 60 of these pikelets, while the heaviest came in at 37lb for Devon visitor Pete Burgess, fishing near the Martham Ferry. Other tidal venues such as the River Bure from Coltishall to Horning and the River Wensum in Norwich also relinquished a fair crop of predators and the prospects for excellent sport between now and March 14 are rated highly.

Match anglers will remember a stunning year among the bream, roach and perch of the tidal rivers but, tragically, popular competition organiser Keith Ford passed away on the bank of his favourite River Yare while organising his first event of the season.