The Angling Trust issued a formal complaint in September to Natural England for its failure to issue renewal licences for the control of cormorants and goosanders by the 1st of September, as required by its own standards of service. Natural England has apologised to the Trust and promised to issue all outstanding licences by the end of October, now that it has hired more staff to do so.
The Angling Trust received a large number of complaints from its members about the delays. Many members contacted the Licensing Unit in Bristol and reported receiving a variety of excuses for the delay from ‘under staffed’ to ‘licensing of great crested newts is taking priority’, although Natural England deny that newt licences were involved.
At one point, the problem became so acute that staff were apparently refusing to take calls on the subject. The delays prevented many fishery managers from controlling cormorants and goosanders taking fish during low water levels in a dry September, which impacted on the capital and amenity value of many fisheries.
The Angling Trust's Chief Executive and Head of Freshwater have a meeting scheduled with Natural England Chairman Andrew Sells in November and will press him to ensure that the organisation improves its performance.
In its letter responding to the Trust’s formal complaint, Natural England said: 'I confirm that in recent months we have faced challenges in meeting our targets and although we have taken steps to address this, there are residual issues to resolve. A number of factors have combined to cause these delays and these include staffing issues as well as changes in how cases are now assessed.'
The spokesperson continued: “We started to address these delays by recruiting additional staff during September and appreciate this is poor consolation for the people you represent. However we would seek to reassure you that we are now assessing the outstanding cases (in order of the date that the return was sent to us) with the aim of issuing all decisions before the end of October.'
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust, said: 'The Angling Trust welcomed the new arrangements announced by the government for tackling cormorant and goosander predation through area based licences and the support for our new Fishery Management Advisors to help fisheries implement a range of measures to deter and control predators. However, these completely unacceptable delays by Natural England with the licensing process have been a backwards step and have undermined the new system we worked so hard to put in place.
'Whilst it is good news that more staff have been recruited and outstanding applications will now be processed by the end of the month we still believe that the whole process remains unnecessarily bureaucratic and restrictive. We will be raising the poor performance of Natural England with Ministers and pressing for action to cut through the red tape. We need common sense measures that are cost-effective and deliver greater protection for fisheries which are suffering from excessive predation. Cormorants are not endangered any more, but many fish populations are severely threatened.'