Anglers are calling for an otter cull, claiming that the predators are emptying lakes and rivers of fish.

Ian Chillcott, a leading coarse angler and fishing writer, says: ‘Fisheries are being absolutely destroyed by these cuddly, little, murdering blighters. Livelihoods are being ruined, but everyone is afraid to use the word “culling”.’

There is a meeting in Hemel Hempstead today between the Angling Trust, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales, to discuss ways of tackling the situation.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, says: ‘We need public funding for fencing, because fisheries are important economic units that provide people with their livelihoods. What has to be stressed is that anglers are not anti-otter. If I see one when I’m fishing on a river, it makes my day.’

Otters were facing extinction in the 1970s, due to the effects of hunting, habitat loss and pollution in waterways, but have become a symbol of wildlife preservation, following a successful series of reintroduction schemes over the past 20 years.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is an offence to kill an otter, punishable by six months in prison or a £5,000 fine. However, many landowners and fishermen have been carrying out illegal culls.

Richard Lee, editor of Angling Times, says: ‘The slaughter of otters has been driven underground. We’re desperate for research so the issue is fully understood. We don’t want random culling. But we want to stop fisheries’ owners taking the law into their own hands.’

Dr Tony Mitchell-Jones, a mammal specialist from Natural England, says: ‘Things are looking better for the otter, but it is not yet back everywhere it should be.

‘There is a presumption against the licensing of killing of protected species unless there are extremely good reasons for doing so. For culling, you would have to show that the control would contribute to the solution of a problem.’

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