Environmental regulators to proceed with controversial fish barriers in the Norfolk Broads

The Environment Agency in East Anglia has provided permission to Natural England for a controversial plan to install fish barriers to improve the balance of water plants in the Norfolk Broads, against fisheries scientists’ advice.  

Hoveton Great Broad. Source: Eastern Daily Press

Natural England has been concerned about the loss of sensitive water plants in Hoveton Great Broad and Hudsons Bay in the Norfolk Broads.  The unique ecological balance within the Broad is one of the reasons for its conservation designation as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI).   As part of a plan to reverse that trend and maintain the conservation designation, it proposed to install barriers to prevent fish populations, notably bream, enteringbhb the Broad for its spawning migration.  Bream are known bottom feeders that disturb the soft sediments, which in turn destabilises plant roots, reducing their ability to establish whilst also creating turbid water, blocking out light and affecting the plant’s ability to grow.

The EA’s fisheries specialist advice was:

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

The Institute of Fisheries Management’s coarse fish specialists also reviewed the project and all the available evidence.  We maintained our strong opposition, judging the barriers to be potentially harmful and recommended that they should not proceed.  As well as intending to prevent bream spawning migrations, there is likely to be an impact on the migrations of other fish species, including the protected European eel.

However, the Environment Agency has approved the scheme, despite these and other objections.

The Institute of Fisheries management is disappointed with the Environment Agency’s decision which goes against EA and IFM fisheries scientists’ advice.

We are concerned that: 

  • there will be detrimental impact on fish stocks, other wildlife and angling,
  • there is inadequate evidence that the scheme will have the desired effect on water quality and plant communities,
  • there are inadequate plans and resources for future monitoring to measure the effects of the scheme on the fish populations,
  • there are inadequate specified success criteria to identify how any changes on the broad could be measured and established if those changes are due to the extensive dredging or the removal of the fish. 

The Angling Trust, Broads Angling Services Group and Fish Legal have also opposed the scheme and expressed their disappointment at the decision.

David Bunt, Institute of Fisheries Management’s Chairman said:  

“We are very disappointed that this plan is going ahead against the advice of our and the Environment Agency’s fisheries experts.  We are very concerned that without certainty that this plan will work, the ecology and wildlife of these Broads, the fish populations and subsequently fishing could be permanently affected.  We strongly urge Natural England and the Environment Agency to comply with their regulatory duties and deploy adequate monitoring over future years so that the outcomes and impacts of this scheme on plants, fish, other wildlife and fishing will be truly known.

For more information contact:

IFM contact:  Paul Coulson,  Director of Operations,   [email protected]

The Angling Trust media release

The Environment Agency and Natural England Press Release                

Notes for Editors

The Institute of Fisheries Management (www.ifm.org.uk)  works to support and promote sustainable fisheries management for the benefit of fisheries, wildlife and society.