Funded by rod licence money and employed by the Angling Trust, myself and my colleagues, Colin Barker and Richard Bamforth are available for anyone in England suffering with Cormorant predation. Our roles are to advise fisheries on the most suitable methods to protect their fisheries as well as overseeing and implementing the year long trial of the area-based management and licensing for cormorants.
Well, six months into the task and things are really picking up pace. I’ve adjusted to my new moniker ‘cormorant man’ and I think I can speak for all three of us when I say that it’s no longer sheep that we count before we drift off to sleep at night. What is clear though is that, from valuable inner city roach pools to our glorious chalk streams containing wild trout and grayling, the issues of cormorant predation have never been more serious and are evident across the width and breadth of the country.
Presentations, slideshows, and forums have been attended and justifiably the issues with predation have made for heated debate. Honestly speaking, I have watched as eyes roll and heard comments like ‘just shoot ‘em all’ and ‘can’t we just set fire to the trees?’ and even a few ’it’ll never work’ jibes. Well it will succeed and we are now working on the ground with some really proactive, driven people who know what it takes. It’s very easy to moan and not so easy when it comes to being up at first light to scare birds off or sitting in the rain on a winter’s evening disturbing roosting birds with a laser pen. Believe me, I’ve done it, and it sure is tough on your own. That’s why this area-based approach is a huge step forward by bringing people together to combat the problem as one.
The management plans are coming together nicely with some now up and running. It’s great to see fisheries working in unison for the greater good. I personally have been hugely impressed by the level of co-ordination on the River Itchen and the Hampshire Avon. Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price from Avon Roach Project have been a key driving force on the iconic Hampshire Avon. They are on a mission to bring the Avon roach back from the brink by stocking areas that have declined in roach numbers. By collecting spawn from the river, they grow these little bejewelled wonders in Trev’s garden, and then their stew ponds before being released back into the river. The roach are safe under the netting of the stew ponds but on release are exposed to Mother Nature and especially predation by cormorants, where hundreds of birds feed daily throughout the winter months. These fish, like others across country, need our help! Please follow the link below to find out more about Trevor and Budgie’s incredible work as well as the video that Trevor and Hugh Miles kindly made for the cause.
The scenarios in the area-based approach are endless, but the benefits are clear. For starters, we need to understand the cormorant population that affects you. Numbers of birds, locations of roosting and breeding sites, directions of flight, and times of feeding are key pieces of the puzzle.. More often than not though, the damage is done before the milkman has done his rounds, so by understanding their behaviour, we can be one step ahead of them. Once this information has been established we can then draw up a tailor-made strategy to deal with the problem
Improving habitat must be seen as one of the primary long term solutions to aid fish survival and I’ve seen some fantastic fishery management up and down the country. Out of bounds areas with reed, alder and willow offer sanctuary for fish when under pressure from predation. These offer vital refuge to give fish a fighting chance and make it more difficult for the cormorants, as well as being fantastic habitat for nesting birds, invertebrates, mammals and so on. The reedbed pictured at my local lake offers the roach shoals sanctuary from early morning predation as well as a haven for moths, shrews, and nesting warblers. This doesn’t solve the issue but certainly tips the balance in the fish’s favour. It’s time to get creative and maybe look at your lake from a different perspective.
Co-ordinated shoots protect the ‘area’ as a whole and the birds quickly learn that there is a ‘danger area’. For example, a Monday morning shoot where all river keepers or fishery managers are on the water at first light as the cormorant move up the water course to feed. Everybody is ready to shoot should the birds drop down to feed and shooting at a bird amongst a group maximises scaring to the other birds. Quite quickly the birds will learn as they move up the valley that this is not a safe place to forage. The problem isn’t solved, as the birds will feed somewhere, but we start to have a say in the matter. This isn’t conjecture, but working methods that are being used to protect rivers as I type. Co-ordinated shoots give fisheries the flexibility to protect the fish when they are at their most vulnerable. For example, in times of flood when the stillwaters get hit hard or conversely when the pits are frozen and the birds descend upon our rivers.
Alongside shooting, I need to bang my scarecrow drum as I know how vital these can be in times when human presence is not possible. Scarecrows need to mimic the river keeper/ fishery manager as best as possible, as cormorants have incredible visual accommodation in flight and can recognise individual people. They should be moved around the fishery in order to prevent habituation. The river keeper can also shoot from behind the scarecrow in order to reinforce the sense of danger and further ‘condition’ the birds to ultimately change their behaviour. My colleagues Richard and Colin sent me some photographs of one last week which has LEDs for eyes and a moving head it has helped reduce cormorant predation on a particular lake by over 90%. It costs just £50 and is proof that simple pro-active management of scarecrows works.
The list of scaring tools and methods to protect your fishery is almost endless but I need to mention laser pens and starter pistols. These are small, cheap, and incredibly simple ways of scaring birds. Two blanks shots fired and a cormorant will be gone, especially if it has been exposed to shooting elsewhere. And my old friend the laser pen which, when flickered on the bird’s body, will see them scarper. Obviously both demand responsible use, because if used incorrectly the police helicopter might be paying you a visit, although this would have the desired effect on the birds!
Talking of helicopters, I’ve been out with our new quadcopter. This tool will prove invaluable when it comes to scaring those out of reach birds, and also for monitoring roosting numbers with its camera. The picture below is Cromwell weir on the River Trent where we will be trialling a whole host of non-lethal scaring options in October. Watch this space!
A cormorant’s viewpoint
It’s clear that every fishery is different and requires thought when putting a bespoke plan together to reduce predation. You have to consider local residents, be them human or other wildlife, the habits of your fish, and the habits of the birds predating upon them etc. That’s what we’re here for so if you’re having issues pick up the phone and give us a call. We have some incredible support from the Environment Agency and Natural England staff as well as many people in the angling community, so thank you! Rest assure that we will be relentless in our quest to protect our fish stocks.
Our contact details and much more information can be found by clicking on the link below: