British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue

News

2013-01-24 09:42:47

BDMLR steps in to help 'Keith' the seal

Since a grey seal appeared in the River Severn near Bewdley and then Stourport-on-Severn late last year, BDMLR have been working behind the scenes to try and stop a licence being sought to shoot it, following statements from anglers that this was an option they may need to follow if it did not leave their fishing waters and return to the sea.

The grey seal, now nicknamed 'Keith' (although its sex hasn't been determined) came into conflict with local anglers when it worked its way up the River Severn from the Bristol Channel and discovered ideal fishing grounds and began feeding, as do otters, heron, kingfishers and other wildlife that naturally inhabit inland waterways.

Alan Knight OBE, BDMLR's Chair, has been working with the Angling Trust to look at non lethal ways of dealing with Keith as we believe that it would naturally move back towards the sea of it's own accord. Talks with the Trust, who throughout have been supportive of our view and willing to work with us, resulted in the following press release being put out yesterday.

"The Angling Trust is pleased to announce that it will not be pursuing an application to Natural England for a licence to shoot the Severn seal following the conclusion of an agreement with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue service which will see both organisations working together to relocate the mammal back to the sea, out of harm's way and to protect vulnerable freshwater fish stocks. The longer the seal remains away from its natural habitat, the greater the risk of it coming to harm from eating food thrown to it by the public or being injured by lock gates or boat propellers.

Recent drops in river levels have improved the prospects of the animal either being rescued, or heading out to sea. The Angling Trust felt that it had little choice but to consider reluctantly securing a licence in response to requests by local clubs and anglers and after the Environment Agency and Natural England failed to take any action whatsoever to manage the situation, despite ongoing and severe damage to a freshwater fishery by a marine mammal.

Shooting was always seen as the very last resort and in any case would have had to be licensed by Natural England. Seals do not enjoy absolute protection as some have claimed. In Scotland, the equivalent organisation licenses more than 1,000 seals to be killed every year to protect fish stocks and salmon farms.

Although the Environment Agency (EA) declined to act to protect the coarse fishery in the River Severn, the Angling Trust has learned that in the past the EA had assisted in the removal of seals from the Rivers Towy and Cleddau in Wales to protect salmon and seatrout stocks.

The Trust has entered into an agreement with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue to work together to monitor the seal's movements and to rescue it if it remains in one place for any length of time and is calling on all anglers to report sightings of the seal on the middle and lower Severn to seal@anglingtrust.net so that its progress can be tracked.

Alan Knight OBE, Chairman of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue said: "The Angling Trust and the representatives of the local angling clubs have been utterly committed from the start to finding a solution which avoided any harm coming to the seal but minimised damage to fish and birdlife. They consulted the BDMLR on several occasions and have been very understanding of the complex issues involved in rescuing marine mammals. They have followed up on all the suggestions we have made about finding a solution that would get the seal back out to sea where it belongs, unharmed. We understand the approach they have taken to try to manage this situation on behalf of the angling community and their concern for freshwater fish stocks in the Severn. However, it's great that we will now be working together to find a safe and humane solution to prevent this, and other seals, becoming stranded, injured or worse."

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: "Anglers have only ever sought to protect the vitally important River Severn fishery and really didn't want to see any harm coming to the seal. But in the face of inaction by those agencies whose job it is to protect fish and wildlife something had to be done to get things moving and our original statement on this situation has served that purpose. It is also pretty frustrating to hear that Scottish and Welsh salmon rivers seem to get better protection than an important English coarse fishery.

We are looking forward to our new partnership with the BDMLR, who are the top experts in this field, and to work with the angling community to rescue 'Keith' who must be very bewildered with all the media attention and crowds. Anglers are the eyes and ears of the riverbank, and regularly report pollution incidents throughout the year. They are in the best place to let both us and the BDMLR guys know of any problems. Anglers can send us details of sightings via the contact us page on our website or to seal@anglingtrust.net with information about the whereabouts of the Severn seal, and any others, so that we can get them back out to sea safely where they belong.

In the meantime we are calling on the public not to feed this or any other seal that ventures into freshwater. It only makes matters worse and hinders attempts at relocation."

The new partnership between the Angling Trust and the BDMLR has been given a warm welcome by local wildlife campaigner Lenni Sykes, who has spoken out for the protection of the seal.

Lenni, a natural history writer with extensive experience in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation said: "I am delighted to have clarification from the Angling Trust that they do not wish to shoot the seal. They are being proactive in co-operating with seal rescue experts and have followed up on advice and ordered a scrammer to deter the seal. Meanwhile, I am grateful that they are encouraging their members to pass on sightings so we can evaluate when and where the seal might be captured successfully and returned to the sea."

Latest reports of the seal are that it has now moved through one lock downriver and we hope that this is the start of a natural progression back to the sea, without human intervention.

Picture courtesy of Roger Huffadine

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager