One of Britain’s premier fisheries has spent tens of thousands of pounds on erecting fencing to protect its prized fish from being slaughtered by otters.
More than two miles of 6ft tall wire fencing now surrounds the two lakes at the Kent fishery that are filled with huge carp, including the country’s biggest, weighing 80lbs.
Large coarse fish can be worth as much as £30,000 a piece as they attract anglers who pay good money for the chance to catch them.
Otters have been slaughtering fish in Canterbury, Kent, after experiencing a resurgence at the fishery
But in recent years carp and barbel have been threatened by the resurgence of the wild otter population in Britain.
The mammals have been emptying lakes of coarse fish which they eat. A number of fisheries have had to close as a result of the loss of stock.
Wingham Fisheries in Canterbury has become the latest to take the drastic action of fencing off their rural lakes with the unsightly barriers.
The 6ft-high fence spans two miles at the fishery, where bosses hope it will stop the death of carp and barbel
The move comes after the UK Wild Otter Trust admitted mistakes were made when hundreds of protected otters were released into the countryside in the 1980s and 90s to boost their dwindling numbers.
David Webb, chairman of the trust, said more research should have been carried out into the effects they had on rivers and fisheries.
He also conceded that the carnivorous mammals would have regenerated naturally without the help from wildlife campaigners.
Fish at the site have been valued up to £30,000 each but have recently fallen victim to otters hunting at the fishery
Steve Burke, who owns Wingham Fisheries, said it was only a matter of time before otters targeted his fish that include nine carp weighing more than 50lbs, prompting him to install the fencing.
He said: ‘It’s only a matter of time before otters arrive everywhere, and with the size of the lakes and the terrain we couldn’t have put up fencing quickly.
‘In the meantime we could have lost some historic fish. It was therefore essential to act before otters returned to this area of Kent.
After hunting otters was banned the animals experienced a resurgence and have begun targeting Kent’s fish
‘Having spent over 20 years creating something beyond my wildest dreams I couldn’t stand by and allow it to be destroyed in perhaps as many weeks.
‘It’s been a massive cost, but clearly the right thing to do.’
It is not known exactly how much the heavy-duty fencing has cost but it is likely to be tens of thousands of pounds. The fishery received a grant from the Angling Trust to fund some of the work.
Otter numbers plummeted in Britain in the 1950s due largely to pollution from pesticides and habitat loss.
But since otter hunting was banned in 1978 and organochlorine pesticides phased out they have successfully recolonised many of our waterways, with the help of wildlife conservationists.
The skeletons of fish that have been hunted by otters at the site, where a two-mile fence has now been erected
The otters enjoy protective status and it is illegal to harm them or interfere with their habitat which has left fishery owners powerless.
Over the last few years the Environment Agency has released to the Angling Trust more than £1m from the £21m a year it nets from rod licences.
The trust then awards grants to fisheries wishing to install otter-proof fencing to protect their stock.
Martin Salter, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: ‘Individual specimen fish, especially big carp, are prized by anglers who pay several hundreds of pounds a year in club membership fees to fish such waters.
Fish have been targeted by otters in Canterbury, leading bosses to erect a 6ft-high fence at the fishery
‘The value of record or near-record breaking fish can be measured in many thousands of pounds.
‘We are seeing that fishery owners are prepared to spend substantial sums of money to protect their stock from otter predation, mainly through installing heavy duty fencing.
‘Otters are an apex predator, they didn’t need any outside assistance in their recovery. Their numbers returned once we stopped using horrible pesticides.
‘The artificial introduction of them was both unnecessary and, in some ways, down right irresponsible as the conservationists did it without any consultation with fisheries.’