From a population as low as just 5 nesting pairs, Walthamstow has seen numbers rise consistently. Even in 1998, 160 pairs were recorded on the site. And this is a problem found on fisheries right across the country. After studies showed approximately 23,000 cormorants wintering in the UK, Defra have introduced a management policy that would allow 3,000 birds to be culled throughout the UK in the first year (and 2,000 a year thereafter).  As has been proved on fisheries like Chew, this is a process that, as well as culling individuals, forces much of the remaining population to move on to escape the disturbance. 

    Over the 20 years that the club has
been in regular dialogue with Thames Water, it has explored the grounds for effective control of this fish predator.

    We have often been reminded that, as well as a series of fully operational water supply reservoirs, Walthamstow is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, managed in partnership with stakeholders which include Natural England, the local Wildlife Trusts and birdwatching interests, as well as the fishermen. 

    Because of this, and the fact that Walthamstow is an urban site, we have been told that,

Part of the roosting colony on No5

unlike other fisheries, the chances of Thames applying to Defra for a license to cull a certain number are remote.

    (That’s not to say that Thames never consider controlling bird species. Discussions have taken place with birdwatching interests over the pricking of Canada Geese eggs to control their numbers, as has taken place further up the Lea Valley. And at Farmoor, measures were taken to disrupt the numbers of roosting gulls which were believed to be an hazard to air traffic.)

    For the last twenty years, a number of non-lethal ways have been tried to move cormorants on, including laser devices, bird-scarers, alarms and regular boat patrols. With none of these proving effective, the decision was made in 1997 to stock with 1kg rainbow trout as a minimum size, instead of the 12-13” length they were used to putting in.

    Long-term Walthamstow regulars will remember when 1-2lb fish were the norm and a three pounder got you a Troutmasters badge. These days a 2-3lb fish is average and people are looking for four to five pounders, and upwards.

    Brown trout have been the exception. For the last two years or more Thames Water have continued to stock with brown trout of a size which them put them at risk from cormorants, and in a single delivery, which caused them to shoal up, making them an easy target. We have been assured that, for the
2008 season onwards, Thames will only stock with browns of the same minimum 1kg size, and spread these through the season.

    Cormorants have always been an easy excuse for bad fishing at Walthamstow, when inconsistent stocking, or a lack of versatility by visiting fly fishermen, and a failure to adapt to the special problems this venue poses, were more to blame.

    Now that Thames continues to stock right through the year until November, and

Is this a trout fishery in distress?

that methods like the Booby are more universally adopted, those excuses no longer hold water.

    Take a look at the fish pictures on this site, and the results of our competitions, especially our Autumn Series and the Fur & Feather. Does this look like a trout fishery with a problem?

    We accept that there will be difficulties at the start of the season. You can’t put 2,000 fish into Nos 4 & 5 four days before the seasons opens, and expect the cormorants not to have a go at them. Anglers will keep them on the move, but if bad weather keeps fishermen away, the cormorants often have it to themselves. Even with a requested stocking size of 1kg, no trout suppliers are perfect, and there are bound to be fish below this size which are vulnerable.

    Sure, we all catch fish with cormorant marks - but these are fish that have escaped, proving that the stocking policy is working. In fact, we catch very few big fish that don’t have one or two ‘battle scars’ but these have survived the experience and gone on to prosper.

    We would be a lot more concerned if we were a coarse or match fishing club, and we regret that Walthamstow’s cormorant population prevents the successful stocking of small carp and silver fish – the type that are ideal for introducing beginners to fishing.

    One of the first sights that greeted the early starters in our recent ‘Fur & Feather’ was the bulk of the cormorant colony lifting off to go and hunt for easier prey species up the Lea Valley.

    We don’t deny cormorants are a problem that needs to be sorted, we just don’t think they have prevented successful trout fishing on the Walthamstow reservoirs.

Extract from a website once sponsored by the Moran Committee Joint Bird Group:

Stock Management

This method has proved fairly successful at trout fisheries where, following the stocking of relatively large trout, the cormorants have subsequently switched their diet to the resident coarse fish populations or have moved to other sites. Both Rutland Water and Grafham Water, two of the best-known trout stillwater reservoirs in England, have followed such a successful stock management programme in recent years. Although the minimum size of the fish stocked has been increased from about 1lb to 1.4lb (with a high proportion above 2lb), the increased rearing costs are reported to have been covered by the better catch return rates and greatly reduced levels of ‘scarring’ damage. It is also apparent that the size of the cormorant winter roost and breeding population near Grafham has fallen since these measures were introduced.

“Protecting our popular trout fisheries at Rutland Water and Grafham Water from losses through cormorant damage has been a critical issue for us, especially with our commitment to enhancing biodiversity. Raising the minimum size of our stocked fish was an expensive option but it significantly reduced the problem and provided better quality fishing to our customers without any direct action against the birds.”

David Moore, Recreation Development Manager for Anglian Water

Cormorant Watch was launched by the Angling Trust, a website which allowed sightings of cormorants to be recorded. The Angling Trust succeeded in persuading Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon to carry out a review of the cormorant licensing procedure. As part of this, data was needed on cormorant abundance, and website visitors were able to record this through an online form.

The Angling Trust is urging angling clubs and fisheries to submit more licence applications over the winter of 2018-2019 to ensure that the maximum number of birds are controlled. At present there is a limit of 3,000 on the number of birds that can be culled through licence applications from angling clubs and fisheries. More recently, government ministers have made it clear that they won’t consider raising this figure until it can be demonstrated that the demand for licences is outstripping this figure. Although the 3,000 figure was narrowly missed in 2016-2017, last year’s figures dropped to around 2,400. The Trust is also urging angling clubs and fishery owners to work together with its Fishery Management Advisors, and to apply for Area Based Licences. Some of the worst affected areas in the country are where the local angling community has failed to work together in this way.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said: “We are doing all we can to protect fish and fishing from the rising numbers of cormorants and goosanders on our rivers and lakes despite substantial political resistance. We need the angling community to pull together by submitting a large volume of high quality applications, with our support for Area Based Licences to control these birds at sustainable levels.”

E-petition. If you would like to add your own personal support to an e-petition requesting that the current licensing system should be reviewed you can do so via this online link here>>

Link to the Wild Trout Trust Cormorant Factsheet  >>
Link to Application Form for the Cormorant Management and Licensing trial >>
Link to the Angling Trust page on Cormorant Predation >>