Hoveton Great Broad fish barriers – the shambles continues

The campaign to save freshwater fish from elimination in Norfolk’s Hoveton Great Broad has taken a bizarre new twist with one government regulator threatening action against another.

Natural England (NE) is now facing the prospect of enforcement action by its one-time partners at the Environment Agency (EA), prompting Angling Trust & Fish Legal CEO Jamie Cook to write to NE chairman Tony Juniper in a bid to ‘bang a few heads together and make them understand that healthy fish stocks matter.’

Last year, leading fisheries scientists and angling representatives sought help from Angling Trust and Fish Legal to contest the ‘environmentally disastrous’ decision by the Environment Agency in East Anglia to grant Natural England  a permit to block off the major spawning site for fish at Hoveton Great Broad as part of a ‘bio-manipulation’ plan to combat turbidity and promote better weed growth. This was despite formal objections from the EA’s own fisheries staff backed up by seven years’ worth of fish surveys, studies and tagging costing more than £250,000 of rod licence and taxpayers’ money.

Natural England blamed the increased turbidity on the presence of fish in Hoveton Great Broad when in fact the accompanying eutrophication is primarily caused by years of sewage and agricultural discharges into the River Bure system. Prolific shoals of bream and coarse fish were present long before turbidity became an issue and studies have shown that Hoveton Great Broad is the primary spawning site for bream and other coarse fish species upon which the £100m angling tourism economy of the Norfolk Broads depends.

Acting on behalf of the local Broads Angling Services Group solicitors at Fish Legal mounted a successful judicial review, winning the first round when the Environment Agency conceded that the public consultation was “unfair and unlawful… as evidenced by the failure to place relevant information, including the objections from Environment Agency fishery staff, in the public domain.”

Rather than taking heed of the judicial review as a warning, Natural England proceeded to erect two additional fish barriers without permits in the Norfolk Broads at Hudson’s Marsh and Gravel Dyke without flood risk permits. The Environment Agency is now actively considering enforcement action against Natural England and have confirmed that the matter has been passed to their enforcement team to investigate further.

Solicitor Justin Neal from Fish Legal said:

“The bio-manipulation project at Hoveton Great Broad has been a mess from the start. In 2014, Natural England said in its environmental statement that it would not go ahead with the scheme if the EA fisheries team objected to the proposal. Unsurprisingly, the fisheries team’s view was that the scheme was environmentally disastrous and a bad idea for fish. But their concerns were suppressed and only after Freedom of Information requests did the EA reveal the truth.

“The permit for the barriers was granted by the EA in July 2020 but it has now been quashed following our judicial review proceedings. In the light of all of this it is nothing short of extraordinary to learn that Natural England have installed two more of these fish barriers without bothering to seek consent.”

Jamie Cook, Angling Trust & Fish Legal CEO, said: 

“Although I’ve been in my current role for less than a year it’s been long enough for me to realise that there are some real issues with Natural England’s attitude to fish and fishing. They clearly have a problem with carp, which have been present in our waters for hundreds of years, and now they want to destroy a prime spawning site for bream and other coarse fish in the Norfolk Broads. It’s almost as if our national wildlife regulator has discounted fish stocks as unimportant when in fact they are a key indicator of properly functioning eco-systems.

“I’m calling on the Environment Agency to use their full enforcement powers to require the immediate removal of these unauthorised fish barriers. I shall also be seeking a meeting with Natural England’s Chairman Tony Juniper and ask him to bang a few heads together in his organisation and make them understand that healthy fish stocks matter.”

Kelvin Allen from the Broads Angling Services Group (BASG) added:

“It is disappointing to see a body charged with protecting our wildlife acting in this way. Natural England seem obsessed in restoring the eutrophic broads back into something it never was. We have attempted many times to find compromise with Natural England on this matter and we can only hope that discussions between their chairman and the Angling Trust may see common sense prevailing.”

Further background information

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