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Cormorant Update

Friday, 11 January 2019

Update from the Chairman

Cormorant predation on Bude Canal and Whalesborough Lake has been a major issue for our members.  Concerns have increased as a result of the sharp rise in the number of cormorants sighted, particularly during the winter months, and the growing number of conflicts with anglers.

As Chairman I wish to remind all members that cormorants are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  A member or members of the public have complained to the local Police regarding ‘scaring activity’ deployed by some members.  It is important that the public understand why and what we are doing as it is easy to see why our activity may be misinterpreted.  It is therefore important that I remind members to remain within the law when attempting to scare and/or deter cormorants, as is your legal right.

The RSPB states on its website

‘in most circumstances, it is legal to deter birds from using a given area. However, there are a number of conditions and considerations that have to be met:

  1. The operation of a deterrent must not trap, injure or kill a bird.
  2. A scaring device or barrier deterrent must not be set so that it prevents nesting birds access to their active nest.
  3. Scaring devices must not be used close to the nest of a Schedule One species, since any kind of disturbance of these birds at or close to their nest is strictly illegal.
  4. Before starting to deter birds from one site, make sure that there are alternatives for the birds to go to. Otherwise the deterrent will not have the desired effect, and will simply serve to distress the birds.’

For clarification the cormorant is not a schedule 1 species.

Many members ask why the Association not simply shoots the cormorants.  The answer is that a DEFRA Licence would be needed.

Where birds are causing serious damage to a fishery, and where deterrent methods are ineffective or impractical, licences can be issued to allow the shooting of some birds as an aid to scaring.  Such licences do not authorise culling (i.e. shooting a large number of birds with the aim of reducing the population), but they do allow a limited number of birds to be shot as an aid to scaring.

It is important to remember that any application to shoot cormorants will depend upon evidence being given that scaring was attempted, or that other methods were impractical.  The Geography of Bude Canal being close to human habitation, footpaths and roads, is a major reason why it is highly unlikely such a licence would ever be granted to the Association.

The Association has sought advice from the Angling Trust (including site visits) to give some practical advice on the options to protect our stocks. The categories below outline interventions that are open to fishery owners and gives a brief precis of what action the Association has taken, and what you as a member can do.

a Habitat management

Good habitat is vital for successful, healthy fisheries  The most cost effective way of minimising the impact of predators on any fish population is to ensure that the environment provides fish with the best opportunities to use their natural defence instincts.  The Association have installed hessian margin bags and planted lilies and mace at Whalesborough although with limited impact due to the geese eating everything!

A number of fish refuges have been deployed at Whalesborough lake.  To date Cornwall Council have refused permission to install refuges on the main canal.  However, the Association will continue to lobby for their use, even if only seasonal (i.e. during winter months).  Given that cormorants will be able to swim faster than most small fish in winter, refuges should not be viewed as ‘bolt holes’. Instead, it will be necessary for any refuge structures to attract and ‘hold’ fish, while providing protection from predators.

b Human disturbance

This simple approach often represents the most effective means of deterring birds. Unfortunately, birds keep unsocial hours leaving their roost before first light and feeding most actively just after dawn.

Scaring by means of noise or throwing stones or use of laser pens to scare cormorants are legal, but you will need to be aware of how members of the public will interpret your actions.  If you are using stones or casting a feeder to scare the birds, you should not throw or cast directly at the bird.  The object is to scare, not injure.  The Association has received a number of queries regarding the use of laser pens, below is advice provided by ‘Pest Control’ magazine:

  1. The legal power rating for a green laser pen should not exceed 1mw (milliWatt).
  2. Only use the laser on cormorants at rest, or in the water, NEVER when flying.
  3. NEVER point at or near an aircraft, vehicle, or a person’s head.
  4. When using a laser, use a zig-zag movement along the ground, water or along a ledge towards the birds.
  5. If given an option, use a wide beam rather than a pinhead version.
  6. Use the laser in short bursts rather than a continuous stream.
  7. Continually monitor for aircraft in the vicinity.

You will have noticed the static scarecrows installed at key rest points of the cormorants.  Whilst these had an initial impact the cormorants soon became normalised to them.  It is important we all play our part and scare the birds when at rest points to maximise any deterrent.

Human disturbance is the only real alternative deterrent available to the Association at present.  As well as scaring activity, human presence over a reasonable period enables the Association to obtain a more accurate count of the numbers of birds affecting the fishery and thus better assess the extent of the problem. This is vital information when applying for permissions to use other ‘control’ methods, such as fish refuges in the Lower and Second Basins.

c Stock management

The Association are looking at possible stocking strategies, such as only stocking relatively large fish, although to date this has only proved effective on trout still waters.  Moving to carp F1’s may be an option but is not popular with anglers who wished to retain a genuine mixed fishery.

Chairman’s End Note

As Chairman I will update you on any future developments via the web site.  I cannot emphasise enough that when exercising cormorant scaring activity, every care should be taken so that members of the public do not misinterpret your actions.

Paul Braund, Chairman BCAA, January 2019