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 Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence

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David Harvey


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PostSubject: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:57 pm

Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence

Eleven angling, fisheries, shooting and countryside organisations have joined forces to call for cormorants and goosanders to be added to the General Licence as part of a National Management Plan because of the damage they are doing to fish stocks on rivers and lakes.

They have issued a joint statement in advance of the imminent conclusion of a review into the licencing of control of piscivorous birds which is being carried out by DEFRA, with input from Natural England, the RSPB, the Environment Agency and the Angling Trust. An announcement of any changes to licensing is not expected until the end of 2012, but these organisations will be encouraging their members to contact their MPs to allow fishery managers greater freedom to control bird numbers without expensive and time-consuming red tape.

The joint statement was presented to Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon MP by Angling Trust chief executive Mark Lloyd (see attached photograph) on behalf of the Angling Trust, Angling Trades Association, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Avon Roach Project, British Association of Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Predation Action Group, Salmon & Trout Association, The Rivers Trust, Wild Trout Trust.

Our organisations urge the Governments of England and Wales to set out a national management plan to reduce the impact of cormorants and goosanders to protect fish stocks as part of healthy aquatic ecosystems and to preserve the social and economic value of fisheries. This national management plan should include adding cormorants and goosanders to the general licence to allow fishery and wildlife managers to protect their fish stocks, along with a wide range of lethal and non-lethal methods of impact mitigation.

The current licensing system is over-bureaucratic, expensive and fails to enable fishery managers to take proportionate action to protect fish stocks. Fisheries are typically granted licences to shoot to scare a fraction of the birds present on their fisheries, after a lengthy application process. Making this change would cut red tape in line with the Government’s objectives and would bring England & Wales’ management regimes into line with continental neighbours such as France.

We do not take this position lightly, but we do so on the basis of clear evidence that these two species have grown, and continue to grow to unsustainable population numbers; overwintering cormorants have increased from around 2,000 in the early eighties to nearly 25,000 in recent years. Cormorants eat over 1lb of fish in a day. In many rivers, silver fish populations are only able to survive in numbers in town centre locations where cormorants and goosanders are fewer in number.

We do so also because fish stocks are already under threat from a range of pressures, including over-abstraction, pollution and habitat damage, which collectively reduce fish populations’ capacity to regenerate. Freshwater aquatic environments are severely degraded and highly managed and that context justifies much more intensive management of these piscivorous birds.

Currently, 60% of rivers in this country are failing the EU Water Framework Directive's requirement to reach good ecological status by 2015, largely because fish stocks are so low. Many of our organisations have programmes of work to improve the condition of the water environment for the benefit of all wildlife.

Many cormorants are of the sub-species Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis, and there is no evidence that this inland bird has any history of existence in the UK before the last few decades. Goosanders were also not recorded in the UK in any significant number before the last century. Their massive growth in numbers has upset the natural balance of our freshwater environment.

A petition organised by the Avon Roach Project, with more than 16,000 signatures, was recently presented to Environment Minister Richard Benyon calling for the addition of these fish-eating birds to the general licence. The Angling Trust’s Cormorant Watch web site has recorded more than 70,000 sightings by anglers in the past year.

Veteran wildlife film-maker Hugh Miles, speaking on behalf of the group, said:

“I have been studying and filming aquatic wildlife for the past 40 years and I am a passionate bird lover and life-long member of the RSPB. I have witnessed in that time the huge growth in the number of cormorants and goosanders and the impact they have had on fish populations. Respect for our fish for their own sakes is long overdue, let alone as a vital part of our freshwater ecosystems. Without fish, the decline of our rivers and lakes and their wildlife could be disastrous.”
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David Harvey


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PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:56 pm

Whats your view on this chaps?

I remain to be totally convinced and stand personally skeptical of the ATr's Cormorant watch statistics of 70,000 sightings. How that was measured, how they accounted for duplicate sightings even though one bird seen 5 days in a week may not have been the same bird, of course.

Just been reading by chance some angry responses to the ATr's position but that said, the submission has an impressive line up. Certainly proving highly emotive outside of the Angling community.

Whats your view, what do you know
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James Mitchell


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Location : Kingston

PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:29 pm

My questions to those who oppose control on population are these:

1) are cormorants really a treasured sighting for bird watchers?
2) do you accept that the numbers of cormorants inland are unnatural, and due to overfishing of the sea?
3) do you think that abnormal numbers of cormorants inland are neutral in terms of ecology and other bird species?

Personally, the evidence I've seen suggests that there is a shift in numbers of cormorants and this can only be detrimental to ecology generally and fish in particular. I view them as essentially as an invasive species from the marine environment. I'd be happy to see evidence to the contrary though, so I can stop worrying every time I see three or four diving at once into an already pressured river.
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Richard Crimp

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PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Thu Jul 05, 2012 9:56 pm

James, there are two different types of cormorant classification, one is an inland bird, one is a sea bird. Here are a couple of articles - writtn in 2008 - that may help members understand the problem a little more. One is written by me for the Echoes magazine, and the one that follows after is written by Martin Read in response to my artical.

The Cormorant... A Beautiful Bird or the ‘Black Plague’?

Having spoken to a number of non-members of ECHO regarding their reasons for not joining the organisation, many seemed to feel as though ECHO’s remit was far broader than it actually is, as though in many ways they felt the organisation was ‘failing’ to address some of the more contentious issues of the day - the otter, the cormorant, bird-life in general, aggregates used as fishing aids, bait content, the dropping of leads, pollution etc. “Why aren’t ECHO dealing with these issues?”

Let’s be quite clear in this regard, it is not part of ECHO’s ‘Aims & Objectives’ to be involved on every level of carping as some form of arbiter as to what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in our sport today! Many carpers would like a quasi-mentor organisation that tackles all the ‘perceived’ wrongs that are created in and outside of our control, but in truth ECHO can only accomplish that which is at the very top of any informed carpers list, and that is the prevention of disease and associated malpractice among the wider community, within the massive and hugely commercial sport of carp fishing.

Disease, in many ways, will alter the nature of how we fish for carp in the years to come, quite probably more so than any ‘anti-angling lobby’, in fact it could well be disease and the associated problems delivered upon these wonderful creatures, enacted by the less reputable among our industry, that may give the anti’s greater leverage in their arguments against angling? However, that debate is for another day.

There are many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that deal with many different facets in respect to the angling community, as well as Government funded Depts. which naturally overlap into ‘carping waters’. There is much expertise within these various fields and although ECHO interacts with these organisations, ‘Angling Unity’ through the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust (FACT, which is now Angling Trust) will lead the way to ensuring that anglings interests are interwoven with those of the ‘wider concern’ regarding the conservation of Britain’s rich and complex natural environment and not ECHO per se’.

But, shouldn’t we have an idea as to what is ‘going on’? As members of ECHO I would believe that we care for more than just simply safe guarding our own code of the sport, I’m sure many of you are also interested in other codes and of equal importance, wouldn’t we by association be equally concerned regarding the wider issues that can and do affect our fish stocks?

This new feature in the magazine isn’t so much an ECHO stand point; rather it is one that I personally feel may assist some of the membership with an understanding of the wider issues that naturally intertwine with our sport, through ‘contentious practices across the board’ and by other means of ‘natural’ manifestations. So, without further ado and to kick start the first of many articles hopefully, as it is for you the membership to decide as to whether we should be treading on ground that isn’t necessarily under the ECHO umbrella, I will be looking at the problems that we face with the influx of cormorants to inland waters.

First off it may be best to introduce the bird itself! The Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) has always been seen as a competitor in fishing communities, so much so, that it was very nearly extinct in the past through mass culling. The proliferation of the current cormorant population can, in many ways, be viewed as a ‘success story’ for conservationists, as the populations of the bird throughout Europe has grown remarkably. Population numbers are sketchy, but anywhere between a half million and one and a half million throughout Europe are the varying estimates, with the lower end being quite probably being the closer.

In and around the British Isles around 25,000 birds winter, of which there are approximately 7,500 nesting pairs and of those, around 1500 pairs that nest inland. 500 hundred of those inland pairs are on 4 sites so we are left with around 1000 pairs that breed the length and breadth of Britain within inland waters. Of the 25,000 birds wintering in and around the British Isles, 40% (10,000) are estimated to winter inland.

Now therein lays the ‘inland fishing communities’ problem - with the proliferation of the species and its ubiquity, many of ‘our’ fish are finding their way into the stomachs of cormorants, dying trees are used as nesting sites and many islands etc. have begun to resemble macabre scenes that remind me of some of the more mediaeval oil paintings that I’m more used to seeing on the cover of a Black Sabbath album! An adult cormorant will eat on average approximately 1lb of fish a day...

In recent years measures have been introduced within the British Isles whereby the respective countries governing bodies, Defra, Nawad, Seerad and the EHS, can issue licences to fishery owners and managers, and as yet the obtaining of a licence seems to have been largely poor on the up-take by those affected, or on many occasions poorly timed. The system of licensing is only as effective as those that wish to apply, and on many occasions it appears as though fishery owners and managers are applying after the ‘horse has bolted’. When the problem has become serious on such venues, it is only then that licences are being applied for and far too late in many cases. Licences are (in the main) only available between September 1st and the 15th April - so fisheries etc. need to build solid strategies to defend their stock and they also need to have exhausted other methods of protecting their stock before licences are sanctioned by the relevant issuing bodies.

There is a mine of information and help for those most affected (contact details below) and it is very much hoped that all of that information and assistance necessary to deal with the problem effectively will be sought by the concerned parties to find a ‘workable solution’ to the predicament before it becomes unmanageable. Obtaining licences for shooting the cormorants aren’t the ‘be all and end all’, as many seem to think, sites that see a large influx of the bird are generally seeing an increase due to an abundance of prey for the cormorant and any birds shot will be replaced by others. There are other preventative measures to be undertaken before licences will be issued for fishery managers to use - as an additional ‘scaring technique’ – whereby shooting to kill a small number of birds, in effect, is only recommended as the final option once all other preventative measures have been utilised and have failed to redress the balance. It is not a licence that permits localised culling as a means to an end, as there is the Wildlife and Countryside act of 1981 to incorporate into any strategy to help ease the pressure on fish stocks.

Why does there seem to be more cormorants inland, aren’t they a sea-bird?

Cormorants were never just a sea-bird and it is natural for them to build inland populations, although I must admit I was of a similar opinion until recently. The reason we see more cormorants inland is due to a number of factors and it is not solely because of the successful enlargement of their population. During the 1950’s & 60’s there were extensive builds of motorways and new housing after WWII, and in turn many more aggregate pits were formed and filled with water - in addition a growing human population needed more water reservoirs that were logistically constructed to supply the utilities required to sustain an ever expanding number of resident people. Combine the diminishing pelagic (open sea) food resources available in the coastal areas and we begin to see the ‘unwitting’ engineering for the widespread dispersal of a successful population of cormorants to inland areas. The birds will utilize the resources made available to them, as is their natural instinct.

In some ways fish farmers and anglers add to the problem through the use of fishmeal and oils in the rearing and catching of inland species, and thereby adding additional pressure on the diminishing sea-stocks available for the cormorant and many other species to flourish in the coastal regions of Great Britain. With the decline of much of the industrial pollution within our inland waters, as opposed to the worsening conditions of the world’s oceans, there has also been the opportunity for many forms of wild birds to flourish inland, and in addition to the cormorant, ‘sawbill’ ducks, goosanders in particular are causing localised problems of natural fish stocks including salmon smolt and trout. We also have to consider the impact of the changing environmental circumstances on a European and near continent scale, where birds have moved geographically to seek better climes such as Britain with our warmer winters in addition to the abundance of fish stock.

The cormorant issue has to be viewed as a management problem and not one that is solved through culling. Measures on a European Community level are a long time in bearing a consensus of agreement among all the member nations, as the issue isn’t viewed as serious enough of a problem on a pan-European scale to warrant the necessary depth of debate to assist those communities that is does seriously effect through European legislation.

For those that require assistance and further information there is a fantastic resource available via the internet that is produced for anglers and fishery management by the Moran Committee Joint Bird Group and it can be found through THIS LINK

References used researching for this article: Defra; Natural England; Science Daily; Wikipedia; The Moran Committee.

Copyright Richard Crimp ©

To this article Martin Read, who helped prepare the Moran Committee Joint Bird Group paper, replied with this article;

Cormorants, by Martin Read

I read with interest Richard Crimp’s article about cormorants in the winter edition and, for what it’s worth, would like to add my own experience with what has, up until otters came along, been anglers’ number one enemy. My personal introduction came on an October day in 1999.

During that summer anglers fishing our club lakes at Ravenfield in South Yorkshire had complained that the fishing had deteriorated. As chairman I could have taken a knee jerk reaction and restocked, but instead attempted to ‘measure’ the deterioration first. What I found was that our match weights, which had increased year upon year for many years had suddenly fallen by approximately half.

Early one fateful morning I found the answer when, just a light was beginning to break, 36 cormorants flew in over the water like a flight of fighter planes. In seconds they had landed and for the next 15 minutes I together with two colleagues watched as they consumed what looked like vast quantities of fish. Unable to watch any longer we frightened the birds off. It was a sobering experience and for the following five months two committee members were on site before dawn every day to scare any visiting birds away. The subsequent effect on our club soon became apparent, we lost half our members and income and the efforts we had made to restore 60 acres of historic parkland and ponds, for wildlife as well as an angling facility were immediately put in jeopardy.

At the time I knew nothing about cormorants but was quick to learn. I applied for a licence to shoot and was turned down, even though I had evidence of catch returns and damaged fish. Soon after we employed a gas gun, designed and built fish refuges and began using floating islands. We embarked on an exercise with CEFAS to film their use under water and assess their effectiveness. I was told that the reason I did not get a licence was because we had not been shooting to scare, something I couldn’t ask an angler to do for fear he lost control, shot some and was prosecuted. I was livid, contacted my local MP and the following year was granted a licence, which I have renewed each year since.

By this time I had read everything I could about the birds, spoken to experts from all disciplines and had begun to understand the problem more widely. In subsequent talks which I gave to clubs, fisheries and even the Environment Agency, I would explain that there were many species worldwide with two carbo carbo (coastal) and carbo sinensis (inland) in Europe. Also that the birds can weigh up to 6lbs, have a 60 inch wing span, have two young per year and with luck, which many don’t have, live for 15 years eating approximately 1lb of fish /day. Strangely their underwater vision is not good and they feed by grabbing at anything that moves, rather than by sight. Unlike anglers however, they fish - usually successfully - every day, they don’t take holidays, buy licences, day tickets, or permits, and never return their catch!

Prior to this firsthand experience I had only heard of problems in the south and their sudden appearance ‘north of Watford’ puzzled me. I was to determine that the population increase had been attributed to three main causes, the first being the demise in the use of organochlorine chemicals like DDT, the second to an increased food supply as rivers improved and more ponds and pits began to hold fish and finally, and possibly to the main reason, that in 1979 the EU provided protection for all birds under the Wild Birds Directive. This latter ruling being incorporated in the UK as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Given protection, bird numbers increased rapidly and by 1992 had increased 10% in Holland, 24% in Denmark, 30% in Germany, from 2000 to 11000 in Sweden, from 2000 to 14000 in East Germany, from 2000 to 16000 in Poland and from zero to 14000 in the Czech Republic. This population explosion soon spilt over into the UK and the influx of inland nesting European birds to the UK began in 1984 when a pair, nested at Abberton Reservoir in Essex. DNA tests showed that they had come from Denmark.

Records show that in 1998 approximately 7500 pairs nested in the UK, approximately 6000 on the coast and 1500 inland, but no records were available for birds simply roosting, rather than nesting, at non nest sites. And in the winter a further 5000 pairs overwintered here, 3500 of which were inland. These figures equate to some 50,000 birds, young included. A truly staggering number and one never admitted by any of the bird organisations who continue to only count pairs, i.e. nests rather than total numbers.

In 2003 experts believed that there were 250,000 pairs of birds in Europe, which, with two immature young/pair amounted to around 1 million individuals. In 2005, I believe, an attempt was made to carry out a survey across Europe. A date and time was selected to count the birds and ‘counters’ were invited to send their results to the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust or the RSPB. I sought guidance on which sites were being counted and none of my local roost sites were registered. I subsequently counted in excess of 120 birds at just one site, demonstrating how the exercise seriously underestimated numbers. The last I heard, sometime later, was that the totals could not be produced because the UK had not reported its figures!

By this time I had had the opportunity to study the birds and the problems they caused in detail. Not only did they eat fish, but they also scared them, often to death, for dead fish could frequently be found in the margins days after the birds had visited, or caused them to take unnatural action by shoaling tightly in very shallow water, even in the depths of winter, believing that the birds found them more difficult to catch. In addition a great many fish suffered wounds. Fish would also stop feeding for weeks, the water dropping gin clear, making it even easier for the birds to find them. All of these factors result in fish being more difficult to catch and so convince anglers that all the fish have been eaten.

I also discovered that the birds are migratory, a fact that the RSPB at the time seemed not to recognise. I and others had observed huge flocks of cormorants going south in early winter and returning again in the spring. One day as while we were at the fishery, some 70+ birds came to feed and despite shooting some succeeded. Two however were shot and were found to have been ringed in the Solway Firth the previous summer. But there are far greater migratory routes across both Europe and Scandinavia, and in the States from Florida to the Gt. Lakes and back. It is now blatantly apparent to me that many of the problems experienced by fisheries throughout Europe and the USA are caused not by local birds but by immigrants from other areas/countries.

And so this lead to looking at what anglers and fisheries can do to limit the problem. Apart from the physical things that were put in place at our fishery, like fish refuges, floating islands, gas guns and the like I also spent 2 years collecting 36,000 signatures on a petition which was subsequently presented to Alun Michael - the then Defra Minister - seeking an easing of the rules to control the birds. Subsequently via the Moran Joint Bird Group, we were successful in persuading Ben Bradshaw to ease the regulations making it now much easier to obtain permission to shoot as an aid to scaring.

Does this solve the problem? Of course not, cormorants are problem across Europe and into the Middle East and particularly the States. Shooting under licence simply moves the birds to another fishery, and effective as some of the other techniques are they are mainly aimed at small still waters rather leaving rivers totally unprotected. Nevertheless I would, however, urge everyone who suffers from cormorant predation to apply to English Nature for a licence to shoot. They are not difficult to obtain if you demonstrate the problem and also take non lethal steps first of all to try to keep the birds away. In my experience, refuges, habitat improvements, scaring and shooting do hold the birds at bay. And if nothing else the application demonstrates to the authorities that there are problems.

In 2005, English Nature under pressure from the RSPB began closely monitoring bird numbers in order to demonstrate that the changes made by Ben Bradshaw are not having a deleterious effect on population numbers. Unfortunately it is unlikely that their models really take account of illegal shooting, which in my estimation kills more birds than are killed under licence, or action in Europe, where the French shoot 25,000/year legally, and the Norwegians too, free from EU rules also shoot a great number, to give just two examples.

Today there is a great deal of talk about cormorants again in Europe and the possibility of a European Management Plan. Don’t hold your breath; I just cannot see all the states, faced with their local lobbying organisations, ever agreeing to such a thing, not in the medium and short term anyway. If anglers and fishery owners would like to see any further changes put in place to help legally with cormorant problems they need first to convince the authorities (English Nature) at home.

For more information about the Ravenfield fishery SEE HERE

Copyright Martin Read ©

A lot of reading but it will hopefully give you further insight, and any thoughts regarding the 'Cormorant Problem', please post in here.

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Martin Read

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Join date : 2012-07-06

PostSubject: A recent view   Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:56 pm

Below is the outline of a note I sent to the AT regarding their argument to get the birds on the general list. to date I have not had a response.
"While I'm pleased to see that the fight goes on, I must say that if the government allows cormorants to be put onto the general list when we tell them that there are only 25,000 overwintering in the UK I'll eat my hat. They are already allowing 10% of them to be legally shot based on that number, which is in line with Natural England predictions to manage the population.

Far better in my mind to have presented information that says that the European population is ~1.5 million, remembering that this is a migratory bird and numbers in the UK are set by numbers in Europe.

You may also be aware, and it would have been worthwhile pointing out to the Minister that figures published by NE show the problem to be increasing. These figures of course take no account of illegal activities either.

YearLicences SoughtLicences GrantedBirds LicencedBirds Shot
200112284 532 186
2002 166 97 527 190
2003 223 152 733 455
2004 416 242 1672 580
2005 * 287+181 * 209 1284/1548 * 1637
2006 401 322 2067 858
2007 336 307 1677 1389
2008 386 358 1893 1458
2009 438 416 2219 1632
2010 452 430 2262 1799
* The numbers are confusing because this was the time when Bradshaw changed the rules

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Richard Crimp

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PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:39 pm

Thanks for joining Martin, and for further clarifying the current situation.

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David Harvey


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Location : Surrey,

PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Fri Jul 06, 2012 9:48 pm

Thank you Martin, and thanks for joining.

Much to read and understand about the whole issue.
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Keith Collett


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PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:40 pm

last year i reported over 80+ birds, on this site, around Penton hook, chertsey bridge , sheppoen lock, walton bridge, some other areas, in 1 day on way from richmond lock to Kew Bridge i counted over 35 of these birds, hav,nt reported any this year,
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Martin Read

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PostSubject: More thoughts!   Sat Jul 07, 2012 10:59 am

I thought I'd got away from the cormorant business but this post has had me thinking again, like....

Let us assume that the AT are successfull in getting cormorants on the general list, what then?

Will we all be able to go down to our local river and blow the birds to pieces?

Will we all be able to sit by our club's ponds and lakes and shoot them?

How about sitting on the beach and shooting a few, or visiting the bird's nesting/roosting sites, there are a few good ones in the Thames valley?

Last time I was in town I could have shot a dozen from Tower Bridge.

I'd suggest that much as some would like to do the above none of them would be practical. I'm not a shooter, but have lots of pals who are and they tell me that it is a highly regulated game, and rightly so. For example one can't shoot without the land owner's permission, even then if the public, (footpaths, other anglers, etc ,etc,) are likely to be present it presents further problems. Nest/roosting sites are usually owned by Wildlife Trusts/RSPB/Councils and the like so they would be out.

All of a sudden the supposed easy solution looks increasingly difficult and remember the French shoot 25,000 p.a. and apparently it makes no difference whatsoever, they just keep coming back. Remember too that unless the Thames Valley is different from my locallity anglers are already illegally shooting birds in many places where they shouldn't, but can get away with it, and no-one has a record of how many are shot or how this affects numbers overall.

The suggestion too that members of BASC could help is something of a none starter when you explain to the individuals that it involves many many mornings up early in the dark and rain just waiting for the chance to shoot one or two, and having done so finding that like herons they're awful to eat.

An easier target, would be to shoot a pig or two, because for sure some of them will be flying long before AT achieve their goal.
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PostSubject: Re: Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence    

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Call for Cormorants and Goosanders to be added to the General Licence
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