Anger at ‘pot shots’ taken to scare birds away from fishing lake in St Albans district


Cormorant - Credit: RSPB Images

The use of guns to take ‘pot shots’ and scare away cormorants near a fishing lake has upset people who enjoy watching such creatures in the wild.

Alex Lewis, a local journalist and avid birdwatcher, told the Herts Advertiser he was concerned to see someone with a gun at Willows Lakes, created in three former gravel pits off the North Orbital Road in Colney Heath, near the River Colne.

The fishery is part of an 180-acre estate, close to Willows Activity Farm in London Colney, which runs it as a joint venture with a private entity.

Alex said: “I was walking along the fishing lake last Tuesday (13) looking for a goosander [diving duck] that had been reported there. I have been birdwatching regularly in the area since the early 1990s, if not longer.

“I was surprised, and quite shocked, to see a chap with a long-barrelled gun taking an unsuccessful pot shot at a cormorant flying overhead.”

According to the RSPB’s website, in winter goosander move from upland rivers in north England, Scotland and Wales, to more sheltered lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs.

Alex added: “I assume that the fishing lake has some sort of official licence allowing it to do this, and doubtless the management will argue that cormorants are harming its commercial interests by taking fish.

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“But in my view, a business’ commercial interests do not justify the destruction of our native wildlife, even though cormorants are quite common.”

The birder said that while the aim might be to merely scare such birds, rather than try to kill them, “I do not understand why he would fire a gun to ‘scare’ a bird when it is flying directly overhead.

“He was pointing the gun, which was certainly not a starting pistol, directly at the bird.”

Alex described it as an ‘unsavoury’ side of the business which should be stopped, or, “if a licence has been granted, I hope it will be rescinded”.

A Willows Fishery representative said that cormorants were being deterred from remaining at the site as “they injure the fish, and they die painfully and slowly”.

She said that using the likes of a starting pistol or a shotgun successfully scared cormorants away from the fish, and that “birds aren’t being shot at”.

The spokeswoman added: “In line with government department recommendations, we use an approved method of harmlessly scaring away cormorants to protect the fish in the lake.”

There are three lakes in the rural location, which are 22, 12 and four acres in size, with visitors invited to also stalk fish on the operation’s three-quarters-of-a-mile section of the River Colne.

The former gravel pits support large fish such as carp and bream, and are used for pleasure angling.

A spokesman for the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust in St Albans said the organisation could not comment on the issue as it had not received any official complaints.