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The Predation Action Group – Predation Report 1 – John Wilson

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john wilson mbeReport from John Wilson, MBE.

This is a Case Study detailing consequences of worsening, and now devastated angling, leisure activity along the River Wensum Valley upstream from Norwich in the relatively short stretch between the villages of Taverham and Elsing, [though the entire 30 miles of the river between Norwich and Fakenham have been similarly afflicted] solely due to Cormorant and Otter predation. This has meant a substantial reduction in business to local pubs, shops, post offices, super markets, a golf course/fishery, hotel accommodation, guest houses and numerous, once prolific coarse fisheries. A situation now rife throughout Norfolk and Suffolk’s major upper river systems, including the Yare, Bure and Waveney, plus their tributaries.

All this prompts the question, why is it within the law for a farmer to shoot someone’s dog that is worrying his sheep, yet fish farmers, fishery owners and angling clubs etc are not freely allowed to cull predators such as cormorants and otters decimating their stocks of fish????? It all beggars belief.

When reintroduced by Tony Blair’s ‘nanny state’ administration in conjunction with Natural England throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, no consideration whatsoever was given to the impact on fish stocks needed to sustain an apex predator such as the otter. Were anglers even consulted about the consequences? Was there any kind of feasibility study done about the release of a major predator into river systems already raped of their silver shoal species by cormorants? Were riparian owners of the river banks consulted about their once ‘valuable’ salmon, chub, bream and barbel fisheries being turned into veritable ‘wastelands for fish? Were angling clubs whose members have put in much hard work over the years in constructing and maintaining valuable still water fisheries ever consulted? Were private fishery owners who have actually built their own fisheries,[ such as me], ever told they would start losing expensive fish as otters started to devour, maim and disfigure them, once the larder in the river became bare? Sadly the answer to all these questions is a resounding NO.
No one was ever consulted as Natural England fired by Blair’s administration, ran roughshod over East Anglia, introducing otters everywhere. And remember, most stretches of East Anglia’s upper rivers had already been decimated of silver shoal fishes by cormorants, with a much reduced stock of eels [said to be the preferred food of otters] which all the interested parties knew about. Very many superb angling fisheries in both still and running water have quite literally been turned into an ‘Armageddon ‘for fish.

Devastating predation has and is constantly occurring to both river and lake species, including dace, roach, perch, tench, bream chub, carp, pike and barbel.Already, the youngsters of the River Valley have no accessible spots in flowing water to pursue the art of fishing, where they stand much of a chance of catching anything, whilst life long anglers who’s interest lay with specimen-sized fish, are having their heritage and much hard work destroyed at an alarming rate.

Are easy meats to otters. As I experienced when scuba diving local rivers back in the 1970’s, it was easy to come up alongside any sized barbel so long as you approached it from a down stream, or across river direction. They would lay there and allow this 13 stone diver to twiddle their whiskers and stroke their bellies. They are by nature the most friendly and trusting of freshwater fishes. Whereas all other species will move away if you approach too close. To Otters, adult barbel, specimens somewhere between 15-25 years of age, are literally ‘easy meat’. And all the otter ever eats from a 10-15lbs fish is around one pound of flesh from its throat or stomach, before leaving the carcass for a fox to sniff out and carry off. A sad end to such magnificent specimens.

Together with heavy cormorant predation upon silver shoal fishes still occurring [a NATIONAL cormorant cull is surely now IMPERATIVE---its not rocket science] there is no way these otter-ravaged rivers can continue as healthy fisheries and provide leisure for future generations. We are talking about tens and tens of thousands of anglers here[in East Anglia alone], all of whom have purchased a fishing licence in good faith from the Environment Agency whose mandate by the law of the land is to protect freshwater fisheries be they still or running water. They are clearly NOT! The anglers of East Anglia and the rest of the country have been let down badly. And it is a worsening situation.

Along a comparatively ‘short stretch’ of just the River Wensum

TAVERHAM MILLS LAKE AND RIVER WENSUM FISHERY—tel Manager Simon Wrigglesworth on 01603 861014 e-mail
Comprising of a 24 acre lake and 1 mile of the River Wensum owned and controlled by Anglian Water, this fishery was once pride of its East Anglian holdings. A 16lbs-6oz barbel, caught here by Steve Keer in 1998, actually held the British record.So the fishery was acclaimed nationally. In recent years however the entire fishery has been decimated.

The lake, though fenced electrically, still suffers heavy otter predation each winter, particularly in high water levels. In the 2009/2010 season alone, 24 big carp of up to 32lbs in weight [at an average retail cost of £500-00 apiece] were destroyed by otters.

In the river there is but a handful of barbel left. And of course it is impossible to fence-in a river. The once prolific roach [mostly through cormorant predation] are virtually non existent, whilst adult chub, through otter predation, have been drastically reduced.

The fisheries self-catering, on site angling accommodation and adjacent tackle shop used to once provide a valuable source of income, but it now produces less than half the income it did back in 2006.Such has been the devastation suffered, mainly through otter predation. Ten years back the allocation of 35 ‘season permits’ to fish the river only was always full.In 2009 only 18 anglers had rejoined.

The fishery used to contribute commercial value to many local businesses. Its guests visiting local pubs, restaurants, shops and even other fisheries etc. This has now all but ceased.

Now fully fenced in by owners Anglian Water, at a cost over £10-000 with stockings of specimen-sized carp planned for the near future.


LENWADE POST OFFICE---Prop for 11 years is Alan Patrick tel 01603 872237

There has been a noticeable reduction in anglers both local and on holiday visiting the shop for food or bait. These past four years have seen a steady decline.


LENWADE NEWSAGENTS—prop for 5 years is Mr Steve Austin tel 01603 872307

Who is only too aware of the local predatory problems due to large carp and tench being taken by otters from the lake at the rear of his property? This lake, once a gravel pit, like most of the 27 beautifully matured lakes around Lenwade now stocked with large carp, was excavated during the 2nd world war for the aggregates to build local air fields. It has been estimated that the water-owning residents of Lenwade and the surrounding fisheries have spent somewhere between £130,000- 140,000-00 on fencing in their properties trying to keep wanton killers such as the otter, out.



John Smith [tel 01603 308092 ]came to live here 10 years ago when the old Mill House was renovated and turned into luxury accommodation. He bought the property mainly for the wonderful fishing in the mill pool with its two sluices, and heavy stocks of bream and chub plus small groups of barbel and roach.A status quo that no longer sadly exists.
Till 2007 fishing in the pool was still good, but from 2008 the decline has been unbelievably rapid through both cormorant and otter predation. Only last 2009/2010 winter, the worst for many years, due to many local still waters being frozen over, cormorants and otters plundered the pool and the river above to devastating effects. For instance, within a week of the Environment Agency stocking 250 young barbel into the river immediately below the Mill House, on every day thereafter there were up to 19 cormorants gorging upon them and what few other small fish that were left.
Today there are no concentrations of young fish from which adults will ever emerge and a mere handful of adult fish left. The Mill Pool as a fishery is dead.

Mr A P Morrish [tel 01603 870453 e-mail ] lives and has done for 10 years in the Granary complex, being part of Lenwade Mill Pool fishery, and also is a partnership in the [across the road] Bridge Public House which comprises a six lake fishery and 600 yards of the River Wensum, once famous for producing barbel to nearly 20lbs.In January and February 2007 Mr Morrish found 13 barbel dead and part eaten by otters. All of these [irreplaceable fish] weighed in excess of 13lbs. Two of these fish were found.

Along the edge of the mill pool, the rest along the pub stretch, two of which Mr Morrish actually recognised[ through scale and body deformities] as fish he had caught the previous autumn at 16lbs-2oz and 16lbs-6oz.
Moreover, due to severe cormorant predation above the mill pool, combined with a river bed that has dropped from five feet to under four feet in the time he has lived here[ due to poor management of the sluices by the Environment Agency] has ruined what by many was considered to be the finest roach fishing on the entire upper River Wensum.It was in fact the very reason he came to live here 10 years ago.

Mr John Seamons [tel 01603 879437 e-mail ] lives in the Granary complex at Lenwade Mill Pool and has done for 10 years since he first bought the property because of the prolific roach fishing. Due to advice[wrongly in everyone’s opinion] from Natural England to the Environment Agency of ‘NOT’ cutting a channel down the middle of the river so anglers can fish and for improving summer flow, fishing has been virtually impossible during the past few years. And what with massive predation from cormorants during the winter months, float fishing for roach and dace [the Wensum’s indigenous species, both mentioned in the Parson Woodeford diaries of the 1700’s] is now largely a waste of time immediately above the mill pool. In the words of Mr Seamons, who was so excited about the fishing when he first purchased his idyllic spot, ‘the fishing during these past few years has now completely gone down the pan’. All because of an alien, non indigenous[to our inland waterways] immigrant sea bird and otters being introduced without any case book study being done as to what these apex predators are going to eat in a river system already badly ravaged by ‘the black death’.

HALL WALK LAKES [3] LENWADE tel Mr A. P. Morrish 01603 870453

These previously well stocked fisheries have like all other waters close by, suffered devastating predation by otters upon the carp which once weighed up to 39lbs.Dozens of extremely valuable and costly fish being found part-eaten by otters these past few years. A fence at a cost to the owners of £28,500-00 has now been erected.


LAKESIDE FISHERY, LAKE HOUSE LENWADE tel John Wilson MBE on 01603 872336 e-mail

These two small man-made lakes have been ravaged by otters for several years now,[despite an otter fence being erected along the river bank only at a cost of £6500-00, banking is too steep around the rest of the fishery] with over 50 carp and grass carp to over 20lbs being killed together with 20 catfish to 25lbs.Whatsmore, during the severe winter of 2009/2010, dozens and dozens of carp were so stressed out after being repeatedly chased by otters [a distinct white, ‘stress’ cast could be seen along their backs] many died a slow death afterwards as a result. This is simply not acceptable.



These two small lakes of two and three acres respectively , once prolific carp fisheries, have, lying adjacent to the River Wensum, suffered drastically during recent years from otter predation. Specimens to over 30lbs having been ravaged.Specimens that would cost up to £2000-00 apiece to replace.


FOXWOOD GUEST HOUSE, TAVERHAM, prop Mrs Yvonne Todd 01603 868474

During the past four or five year’s bookings with anglers visiting this area and staying at Foxwood have certainly crashed. It’s as though the fishing isn’t worth the effort any more. Which is not so far from reality?

LAYFIELDS LAKES, LENWADE prop Darren Layfield 01493 842231

Comprising short stretch of the River Wensum plus 4 syndicate and day ticket carp and general fishing lakes. Due to uneven ground between and surrounding the lakes not all of the fishery can be fenced in, although the owner has invested thousands of pounds endeavouring to protect much of the fishery, and therefore still suffers severe winter otter predation, at outlandish costs.

Now totally fenced in at a cost of £15-000



Has suffered a noticeable decline in the amount of both local and visiting anglers wanting to stay at the pub and fish their lake,ponds and stretch of river where the otters have reduced levels of specimen-sized barbel and chub to an all-time low. In the bar of the pub is a ‘stuffed; 16lbs barbel [far larger than the once ‘national record] found one morning part eaten beside the Wensum.This stretch produced monster barbel to almost 20lbs a couple of years ago, individual fish that were but a pound away from establishing a new British record. Now most have been eaten by otters. This creature single handedly has destroyed a most unique and irreplaceable angling phenomenon.


THREE BRIDGES FARM LAKES and RIVER FISHERY tel owner David Baker on 01362 637883

Periodically suffers otter attacks, and has done so especially during these past four years, resulting in lower syndicate membership of anglers joining their fishery. Not exactly how the owners envisaged the running of a modern coarse fishery.

WENSUM FISHERIES. COSTESSEY/TAVERHAM secretary Cyril Wigg tel 01603 423 625

This Lakeland [three well established pits] and river complex just downstream from Taverham mill has suffered badly in recent years from both otter and cormorant predation , resulting in the Norwich and District A.A. who control the fishing issuing less and less permits each year, and having to subsidise those they do issue. Roach in the River Wensum here, once the pride and joy of the association, are now like rocking horse droppings, and chub are nowhere as thick on the ground as they once were. While carp, pike and tench in the lakes are regularly plundered by otters.


DEREHAM AND DISTRICT A.A. secretary John Mills tel 07876 563378

Who have several hundred members on their books, control stretches of the Wensum and various local pits between Lyng and Swanton Morley, open[for the modest price of a ticket to all] are constantly suffering devastating otter attacks, diminishing all the hard work in stocking and in the quality and in the promotion of their fisheries to both local and visiting anglers alike.

CATCH 22 FISHERY LYNG EASTHAUGH Manager David Wilby tel 01603 872948

These two famous carp lakes [renown throughout angling circles for the high, average sized carp they produce,[including specimens to over 40lbs] have periodically suffered costly carp deaths from otters which enter the complex via the adjacent River Wensum.As this is a ‘big carp’ fishery, the cost of regularly replacing those ravaged by otters becomes an escalating, economic problem for the management For instance. A 30lbs carp now costs up to £3000-00, and at today’s prices this fishery contains £1 ¼ million in stock fish, and caters for 5000 anglers annually including a party from Ireland who come over purely for the wonderful carp fishing. Due to the boggy-marshland boundary with the River Wensum, effectively fencing in the entire fishery is sadly not an option. The fishery at present is in the process of developing its own fish farm. Is it to loose still more fish to the wanton killing by otters?
Now, in 2012 being completely fenced in at a coast of £80-000



This winding ‘once chub- prolific’ stretch of the River Wensum has greatly deteriorated in recent years through predation from otters and cormorants. It now has nowhere near so many adult chub and pike available to the small amount of syndicate members who still fish there hoping for things to change. I once caught 21 chub of between 3-4 ½ lbs here in a single session. My best ever chub haul from the upper Wensum. Twenty years ago this stretch [like so much of the upper Wensum] contained shoals of big roach and large dace, both of which due to heavy cormorant predation are a thing of the past. Yet first and foremost the River Wensum is actually considered a lowland roach river. Now it’s like a congested motorway without any cars.

KINGFISHER LAKES AND APARTMENTS. LYNG tel fishing director John Bailey on 01263 712444

This 4 lake complex bordered by the adjacent River Wensum, like all local fisheries has regularly suffered its large carp being found wantonly killed and part-eaten by otters. Whilst the once roach-prolific River Wensum,[the envy of roach anglers up and down the country back in the last millennium] is now sadly but a shadow of it’s former self.

WENSUM VALLEY HOTEL AND GOLF COURSE FISHERY tel owner Basil Todd on 01603 261012 e-mail

This fishery comprises nearly two miles of the once roach and chub prolific River Wensum, plus several wetland lagoons skirting the bottom of the golf course. Roach and dace are now almost non existent due to cormorants, whilst otters predate heavily on the specimen-sized chub, trout and pike. The owner has on several occasions found part eaten big chub in the middle of the fairways, where a fox has carted off an otter-mauled corpse and been disturbed by early morning golfers. This has resulted in fewer anglers staying in the hotel in order to fish this particular part of the river.

LENWADE PIKE CLUB LAKE, owner Mrs S Acloque tel 01603 872392
E mail

This fishery has now been partly fenced in along the river bank, at quite some cost, having been heavily ravaged by otters. Time will tell whether this continues. Much of the work has been done by the members. Numerous cormorants gather along the adjacent river, particularly in winter, and add to the predation. Cost of fencing £6000


‘THE LAWNS’ LENWADE owner Mr C Arthurton tel 01603 879888

Another specimen-carp lake in Lenwade that is periodically ravaged by otters, at great cost [in replacement stock] to the owners. It has been part-fenced along the river bank, but still 50 carp have been found part-eaten during the past five years.


THE STATION LAKE, LENWADE owner Mr J Woodhouse tel 01603 879421

A famous big carp lake that has thrilled local and visiting anglers alike with the size of it’s carp for more than 40 years. But it too in recent years has suffered chronic predation from the release of otters, with numerous carp to 30lbs being found part eaten along with a pair of large grass carp. The cost to the owner of replacing these adult carp is astronomical. It has now been COMPLETELY fenced at a cost of £10-000 but like so many of the mature lakes [ex gravel workings] in Lenwade, the banks are extremely steep and uneven.




• Over a quarter of a million pounds spent on maintaining 13 fisheries [local businesses] due entirely to the predation of OTTERS.

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