A controversial plan to install fish barriers in one of the UK’s top bream fisheries – described as ‘hair-brained and a waste of money’ – has been dropped.
The barriers, proposed by Natural England, would have prevented fish movements in and out of Hoveton Great Broad – a prime spawning site for bream in the River Bure system.
The scheme was designed to promote the growth of aquatic plants and improve water quality. But fisheries scientists and angling bodies had condemned the decision by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2020 to grant Natural England permission for the plan.
The EA’s own fisheries staff had formally advised against it following surveys costing more than £250,000 of rod licence and taxpayers’ money.
The survey highlighted that Hoveton Great Broad is the primary spawning site for bream and other coarse fish species throughout the Northern Broads, upon which a £100m angling tourism business depends.
It also concluded that the exclusion of spawning bream from the Broad would be unlikely to achieve Natural England’s objectives.
In 2020 Fish Legal, acting on behalf of the Angling Trust, had successfully challenged an earlier decision by the EA to allow Natural England to install fish barriers on Hoveton Great Broad. The court quashed the approval after the EA admitted that it had failed to put evidence into the public domain, forcing a second consultation.
However the EA imposed far more rigorous conditions and the project failed to meet its March 2023 funding deadline. Funding has now been withdrawn and the plan will not be proceeding.
“Whilst we are obviously delighted that this hair-brained, evidence-free, waste of money project has been stopped following a vigorous campaign, you have to ask how it was ever allowed to get this far,” said Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Trust.
“Natural England should take off their anti-fish blinkers and look at the real reasons for declining water quality, including the build-up of phosphates and sediment from agricultural and sewage treatment works.”
Broads Angling Services Group Chairman Kelvin Allen said: “Climate change has shown just how fragile the Broads are to rising sea levels and although we never supported the project’s objectives […] with over a million fish lost this summer to salinity levels moving 35km inland, a new vision is needed to protect the whole Broads rather than just Hoveton Great Broad.
“We have agreed with both Natural England and the Environment Agency to work with them in partnership to find an effective way forward for the whole Broads fishery.”