Natural England back down over Hoveton fish barrier removals should harm occur to bream spawning areas

15th December 2021

After determined action by solicitors at Fish Legal, on behalf of the Angling Trust and the Broads Angling Services Group (BASG), Natural England have accepted a previously disputed permit condition. This will now require the controversial fish barriers that they are installing at the entrance to Norfolk’s Hoveton Great Broad to be removed should harm to fish stocks be detected at this important spawning site for bream and other coarse fish.

This is the second successful challenge by Fish Legal to the 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 in the northern Norfolk Broads in order to combat turbidity and promote better weed growth. The permit was granted despite formal objections from the Environment Agency’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.

In November 2020, anglers won the first round in their battle to save this important spawning site when the Environment Agency announced that it was conceding the first of four grounds in a judicial review lodged by Fish Legal. This included “unfair and unlawful public consultation as evidenced by the failure to place relevant information, including the objections from Environment Agency fishery staff, in the public domain.”

The previously ‘hidden’ Environment Agency Fisheries Team advice stated:

“It follows that the proposed bio-manipulation methodology, involving the installation of fish proof barriers to prevent fish accessing the habitats currently found within HGB [Hoveton Great Broad] carries a high risk of detrimental impacts to the fish populations of both HGB and the Northern Broads system.”

Following a second consultation the Environment Agency eventually bowed to pressure from Natural England and granted permission for controversial fish barriers to be installed with a tough condition that Natural England tried to claim was unenforceable. They have now conceded to the condition and compliance will be closely monitored by local angling interests and Environment Agency  fisheries staff.

In a letter to both Natural England and the Environment Agency, Fish Legal solicitor Justin Neal clarified the legal position of Condition 9 as follows:

“Natural England had said in their application documents that the condition requiring that the barriers be removed if they cause environmental damage was unenforceable. That was extremely concerning as it would mean the barriers would not be removed even if bream numbers crashed because they had been expelled from their spawning grounds. However, they now say the condition is enforceable

He concluded:

“Therefore, we now hold Natural England and the Environment Agency to this interpretation. If, once the project is undertaken, the Environment Agency determines that significant environmental harm is occurring to fish populations in the River Bure system as a result of the exclusion of fish from Hoveton Great Broad and/or Hudson’s Bay, Natural England will be required to open the gates in the three barriers to allow fish into Hoveton Great Broad and/or Hudson’s Bay.”

The news was welcomed by Kelvin Allen, Chair of the Broads Angling Services Group who said:

“This places  the Broads Fishery on a sustainable footing moving forwards and through these legal challenges we have made some significant progress, but much more is needed in the coming months working in partnership.”

Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust added:

“Faced with the prospect of further action, Natural England have now conceded that the permit conditions are enforceable and that action can be taken to save fish stocks that are threatened by their hare brained scheme. The Environment Agency, whose fisheries experts opposed these plans from the start, now have to do their job in assessing the project for environmental harm. We will be watching the situation intensely and the moment any problems are identified, the barriers must be opened up to allow fish to enter and complete their spawning cycles.
“I have reminded the Environment Agency that they have a statutory duty to improve and protect fisheries and we will hold them to this. It is good news that Natural England are now severely constrained by these permit conditions and we will ensure that they comply. With BASG a key part of the monitoring process both the Angling Trust and Fish Legal will remain on standby to support them and to intervene again if required.”

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