Seals rescued by RSPCA swim 30 miles inland - and eat all the fish

A seal near the rowing course beside the River Nene in Peterborough, about 40 miles from the sea
A seal near the rowing course beside the River Nene in Peterborough, about 40 miles from the sea - PAUL MARRIOT

Rescue seals released by the RSPCA are failing to return to the sea and are killing fish, anglers have warned.

At least five seals have been found living in waters around Peterborough, about 30 miles from the coast, two of which had been tagged following releases by the charity.

The Angling Trust says the seals are causing “significant damage” to freshwater fish stocks in the area and it has written to the RSPCA to ask that it change the release location.

The RSPCA routinely rescues seals that wash up on beaches or appear in inland waters and encourages the public to report sightings.

It says that where possible, it releases rehabilitated wild animals back to where they were found as quickly as possible.

The Angling Trust said that if the seals are left too long in inland waters, it could have “an unsustainable and damaging impact upon fish stocks, other freshwater wildlife and the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems”.

The Wash is home to several colonies of seals, which arrive in their thousands on Lincolnshire beaches during the winter months to breed.

Opportunistic foragers, they are known to follow in the wake of fishing dredgers to chase an easy meal and have been found up to 27 miles in from the Lincolnshire coast.

The Environment Agency has warned of reduced numbers of fish in the River Nene
The Environment Agency has warned of reduced numbers of fish in the River Nene - JEN COWLEY/SWNS

Stocks on the River Nene are particularly vulnerable to seal predation because the stretch of water had been historically straightened, leaving fish with nowhere to hide, said Mark Owen, the head of fisheries at the Angling Trust.

The trust has also called on the Environment Agency, which recently warned of reduced numbers of fish in the River Nene, to ensure that seal releases at Sutton Bridge are suspended.

“In spite of the efforts made by the RSPCA team at East Winch to map suitable tides and conditions for release, evidence suggests there are an increasing number of seals reintroduced at the Sutton Bridge site which are travelling into freshwater rather than their natural marine environment,” Jamie Cook, chief executive at the Angling Trust, said.

“We have therefore asked the RSPCA to immediately cease reintroductions at the Sutton Bridge site to protect both the seals as well as the native freshwater fish and wildlife they are encountering.

“We have no objection to the release of rehabilitated seals in line with government policy and have asked the team at East Winch to consider coastal release sites, which will assist the seals in orientating themselves back into their natural environment and colonies, rather than finding themselves trapped alone inland.”

An RSPCA spokesman said: “We’re proud of the work we do in rehabilitating seals, and releasing them into the wild is an important and rewarding part of wildlife rehabilitation.

“Discussions are ongoing with relevant partners about this location. We would welcome a discussion with the Angling Trust about helping wildlife thrive and their concerns.”

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