Hereford & Worcester

Anglers angry over return of Keith, the 'rogue' River Severn seal

The seal photographed on Tuesday
Image caption The female seal, known as Keith, was in Diglis Lock in Worcester on Sunday

A row is developing over what to do with a "rogue seal" which anglers say is eating River Severn fish stocks.

Fishermen say the seal has been seen eating fish like salmon, pike and chub "right in front" of them.

The Angling Trust wants the mammal, named Keith despite being believed to be female, to be returned to the sea. However, it claims Natural England is blocking their "humane rescue".

A Natural England spokesman said seals were protected by law.

'Very frustrating'

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said he believed the seal, which was first spotted in 2012, 50 miles from the sea, had become "semi-tame".

"It's very rare they stay in rivers for so long," he said. "I think it's because people keep feeding it. Now it's following boats around for food.

"We thought it might go away but it hasn't. It seems to have been in the river for nearly a year now and we are getting complaints from anglers."

Mr Lloyd said the trust, with support from the Environment Agency, had planned to capture Keith in a lock and return her to the sea, off the coast of Cornwall.

However, they can only remove Keith if they get a licence from conservation body Natural England, which Mr Lloyd says is being blocked by "red tape".

"Natural England has had our paperwork for more than a month now," he said. "They are asking us to provide evidence of the damage to fish stocks, which seems very bureaucratic.

"It's very frustrating because, over the weekend, the seal went into Diglis Lock in Worcester and was retained by the lock keeper but had to be released because we didn't have the paperwork sorted."

In January, the trust applied to Natural England for permission to shoot the seal.

However, Mr Lloyd said the trust had not pursued that option following a public outcry.

A spokesman for Natural England said a licence was required to capture the seal during "closed season", which runs from September to December.

He added: "It is illegal to kill or capture a seal at this time.

"We must satisfy ourselves there is sufficient reason for issuing a licence and we therefore have requested further evidence to support the application."

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