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Angling Trust says RSPCA will suspend seal releases at Sutton Bridge after concerns raised over fish stocks

Anglers have welcomed the news that the RSPCA is no longer going to release seals at Sutton Bridge following concerns over the impact on fish stocks.

The Angling Trust has called on the charity to cease the release of rescued on the River Nene after some seals were heading further up the river and had been seen around the waters in Peterborough.

The trust says it has received a letter from the RSPCA stating that they were implementing a pause to “focus on gathering data and evidence concerning released seals and release sites, consult on alternative options and speak with relevant partners.”

Seals released at Sutton Bridge by the RSPCA
Seals released at Sutton Bridge by the RSPCA

The charity is well-known for treating injured seals at its East Winch Rehabilitation and Rescue Centre and there are currently five tagged seals living around the Peterborough area.

While seals occasionally travel upstream into rivers, their natural habitat is in marine environments and prolonged periods in freshwater environments can be detrimental to their own wllbeing and have an unsustainable and damaging impact upon fish stocks, other freshwater wildlife, and the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems.

Angling Trust chief executive Jamie Cook said: “We applaud and very much welcome the decision to suspend releases at the Sutton Bridge site whilst this review is conducted and look forward to working constructively with the RSPCA to reach a satisfactory resolution to the problem.

A previous seal release
A previous seal release

“We understand the East Winch team already have an established and proven coastal release site available as an alternative and the neighbouring rehabilitation centre carry out all their releases on the same shoreline.

“We very much hope that this will be seriously considered as an alternative to the Sutton Bridge release site which is resulting in rescued seals becoming isolated inland – that is not good for the seals, the environment, the ecosystem and especially the already pressured fish stocks.

“We will be working with the RSPCA, the local angling community and other stakeholders to ensure that these rescued seals have the best chance of being returned to their colonies in the Wash and critically that the freshwater fishery can be protected, maintained and developed free from the additional predation threat of seals becoming isolated or resident in freshwater environments, which is simply unsustainable.”

The Angling Trust have suggested that the RSPCA’s review needs to also address two further questions:

- What support is the RSPCA offering to encourage the seals to move downstream to the coast

- What ongoing changes to the release of seals can be implemented to minimise the risk of them moving upstream, including any mitigation measures necessary.

The RSPCA's decision to suspend the release of rescued seals at Sutton Bridge was also welcomed by local angling clubs.

Rob Harris, Chairman of Peterborough & District Angling Association which looks after the River Welland in Spalding,said: “The Angling Trust intervention has been crucial to get this matter properly reviewed and addressed. We have been tracking tagged seals from the Sutton Bridge site since 2022 and are fully committed to protecting our already challenged fisheries from unsustainable levels of predation.”

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: "“The RSPCA is here for every kind of animal, through rescue, advocacy and prevention and we’re proud of the work we do in rehabilitating seals at our specialist wildlife centres.

“Releasing a seal into the wild is an important and rewarding part of rehabilitation which can often take many months. Our rehabilitation work and releases have been developed with scientific evidence.

“We always take great care when we release seals in order to give them the best chance at surviving in the wild, however given the concerns, we have paused releases in this location while we gather further data and evidence and consult with partners.”

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