'Threats to kill seal' living in Essex fishing lake pressured rescuers to use tranquiliser gun

A trained vet shot the seal with a tranquiliser in an attempt to rescue it. Photo: Darren Lindsey
A trained vet shot the seal with a tranquiliser in an attempt to rescue it. Credit: Darren Lindsey

Rescuers said they were pressured into using a tranquiliser gun on a seal because of "threats from anglers" to "shoot and kill it" after it settled in a fishing lake.

Nelson the common seal, named because of his injured eye, moved in to Rochford Reservoir before Christmas - forcing it to close - and had been gorging himself on fish for weeks.

On Saturday, a final attempt to rescue him so he could be returned to the sea ended in tragedy after the animal drowned while sedated.

A spokesman for British Divers Marine Life Rescue, who were among the rescue teams, told ITV News Anglia they needed to act quickly after threats were made to shoot and kill the seal.

The seal "decimated" fish stocks in the Rochford Reservoir after moving in before Christmas. Credit: Darren Lindsey

"The coalition expressed deep disappointment and sadness that the operation was unsuccessful, but had emphasised before the rescue took place that it carried significant risk," they said.

"Nevertheless, as the seal was under threat of being shot in order to remove it from the lake, it had been deemed worth trying to catch and relocate it in order to save its life."

They added: "There had been threats posted publicly on Facebook by local anglers threatening to shoot the seal and kill it."

Anglers had been annoyed that the fishing lake had been closed by the arrival of the seal and that fish stocks had been decimated by the hungry mammal.

But Marks Hall Fisheries, which owns the fishing rights for the reservoir, insisted the threats were from "random people on social media" and had not come from anglers.

Nick North, who runs the fishery, rang the rescuers when the seal was first spotted and has co-operated with teams throughout.

He said, despite the animal eating around 5,000 fish and costing his business thousands of pounds, he was "sorry it had ended this way".

"I would have liked to have seen the seal captured, treated and released," he said.

Eyewitness Darren Lindsey watched as a trained vet shot the seal with a tranquilising dart. He has since returned to the lake several times in the hope of seeing it resurface.

He questioned why the rescue team - which included BDLMR, Rochford Council, South Essex Wildlife hospital, Essex Police and the Environment Agency - had gone down that route.

"It's really sad. Darting it was always going to be risky," he said. "I would like answers over why that was the only option. Why couldn't they have trapped it? The seal has died for the wrong reasons."

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