Fish Legal forces Environment Agency to back down over Hoveton Great Broad fish barriers

The Environment Agency has announced that it is 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.”

Acting on behalf of the Angling Trust and the Broads Angling Services Group, solicitors at Fish Legal last month issued a legal challenge against the decision by the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) to press ahead with plans to install fish barriers to block off vital spawning grounds in Norfolk’s Hoveton Great Broad.

Top fisheries scientists at the Institute of Fisheries Management, who formally reviewed the project, came to the same conclusions as the EA’s own fisheries experts judging the barriers to be potentially harmful and recommending that they should not proceed.

The previously ‘hidden’ EA 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.”

Other grounds in the Judicial Review which are still to be determined include:

  • Failure to follow obligations under the Water Framework Directive. (The WFD requires getting waterbodies and linked waters to “Good Ecological Status” but failed to take into account the fact that Hoveton Great Broad would go from being a prolific spawning area to having no fish).
  • The breach of the written assurances from Natural England that it would not go ahead if the Environment Agency’s fisheries specialists considered that there would be a “significant impact on fish”.

Justin Neal, Solicitor at Fish Legal said:

“In July 2020, the EA granted Natural England the permit to put in fish barriers. That was despite calls from the EA Fisheries Team not to do so and investigations by the fisheries team which suggested that the impact on spawning fish would be catastrophic. None of this information was made available to the public during or after the consultation, so it had to be dragged out of the EA afterwards. We were then left with no alternative but to issue a judicial review claim at the High Court.

“The EA has now conceded on the first legal ‘ground’ – that the they had failed in their statutory and common law duties by failing to publicise and properly consult on the application for the permit – and have agreed that the permit application should be ‘remitted’ for ‘redetermination’.

“NE has said that it does not contest the argument that the consultation was flawed, but is defending the other legal grounds. It is likely that the Court will approve an order to ‘quash’ the permit decision.”

To read more about this please click on the link below