These deadly non-native invasive predators have become prime suspects in the decline of coarse and game fish on the river. Often, groups of 150 can be seen roosting together. By day, they range up and down the river, plundering the river of its stock of wild fish.
There is a very good explanation of the problem by Trevor Harrop of the Avon Roach Project in this short film. Many observers feel that the immense amount of conservation work directed at salmon at coarse fish is being wasted by the way in which cormorants have been allowed to breed unchecked.
The estate policy is not to cut weeds in the river, as we believe they are the richly biodiverse”rain-forest” of the aquatic domain. If cut, the weeds and their micro-buglife inhabitants are sacrificed to brutal mechanical swathes of destruction. We would only cut if there was a limited proven pinch-point, or for tactical fishing reasons and the cut was minimal. We are very glad that the days of the contracted cuts are over, and anglers are noticing a return of the specimen coarse fish to the Avon.
Our water-meadows cover some 200 hectares (500acres). When there is heavy and prolonged rain, the river swells by as much as ten times in volume from its summer low-flow. The flow increases from a low point of 6 tonnes/second to a vast 60 tonnes/second, or the equivalent of 3 road tankers/second! Any weed in the river is secondary to this power, and the water just rides up over any weed and spills out into the water meadows, as nature intended. Although having a metre depth of water travelling fast over valuable land is daunting for us farmers, the water does slow down enough to drop out silt and mud as natural fertilisers. The resultant mud, smell and acres of docks and weeds deposited by the river is hard to manage, but people, cattle and wildflowers do somehow survive. Our cattle are naturally off the meadows in the winter.
In the very dry summer of 2018, this policy of not cutting weed played in our favour by keeping the water levels high. This allowed us and other farmers a second cut of silage or hay.
Regrettably, the discussion on cutting weed has returned, and the debate is being opened up again, despite the definitive ruling by the EA and Natural England that cutting weed was to cease in 2009.