Pike anglers angered

Chris BishopWEST NORFOLK & THE FENS: Pike anglers claim there are gaps in measures to protect the River Thurne from potentially toxic silt. Officials claimed silt screens would prevent prymnesium algae spores escaping from Heigham Sound into the river, as contractors began test dredging.Chris Bishop

Pike anglers claim there are gaps in measures to protect the River Thurne from potentially toxic silt.

Officials claimed silt screens would prevent prymnesium algae spores escaping from Heigham Sound into the river, as contractors began test dredging. But pike anglers who have visited the site claim gaps in the screens could allow material to pass through into the river.

'The silt control is disastrous,' one said. 'It looks pretty from a distance, but they've just tied it together. They're supposed to have Velcro over the ropes.'

Anglers claim the screens do not extend all the way to the bank, meaning the wake of passing craft could wash material around them.

But in a statement, the Broads Authority said: 'The pictures taken by the anglers are of the flotation bags which float on the surface to hold the curtain in place and are not designed to be joined up. This gives them flexibility to form an enclosure without snagging against each other, as shown in the picture of them floating round the dredger.

'The silt curtain which hangs beneath the surface of the water out of sight has been assembled according to the manufacturer's instructions. It is provided in 20 metre lengths which are stitched together on board a vessel before being suspended in the water. To increase the length of the curtain, sections are 'stitched' together, over lapping the material to provide a gap free join. No Velcro is supplied or needed.'

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Yesterday, the Environment Agency said it had instructed the Broads Authority to monitor water quality during the trial to check for the presence of prymnesium. 'If levels do rise, they'll be told to stop the work,' an agency spokesman said.

Norfolk pike anglers, led by the Norwich and District Pike Club, have opposed plans to dredge areas of the Thurne around Heigham Sound.

Officials hope to use material removed from the river to reinstate an island near the mouth of nearby Duck Broad. But anglers fear the dredging will release prymnesium trapped in the silt, leading to a repeat of major fish kills which happened on the shallow Upper Thurne system during the last century.

Recognised as one of Britain's most historically-important pike fisheries, the tidal river and its network of reed-lined meres and broads have produced a string of 40lb-plus pike over the last 20 years, including two fish which have held the record, before the Broads were eclipsed by trout fisheries.

Since Peter Hancock landed the Broads' first 40 pounder from Horsey in the 1960s, anglers have seen their freedom to explore the system restricted by officialdom and conservation groups. Many fear it would be the greatest irony of all if work to reinstate an island allegedly destroyed by grazing geese let the prymnesium genie back out of its bottle.