Anglers call for RSPCA to stop seal releases in River Nene because they're swimming the wrong way

A seal was seen in March 2024 close to Charters Bar on the River Nene in Peterborough.

Anglers are begging the RSPCA to stop releasing seals into a river - because they keep swimming the wrong way and ending up in a landlocked city.

The amphibious mammals have been frequently spotted deep inland for more than a year, with fishing groups claiming they are tagged rescue seals.

For years, the animals have been released into the River Nene at Sutton Bridge on the Norfolk-Lincolnshire border with the expectation that they will follow the tide out to The Wash.

But instead, a handful of the seals have turned up in Peterborough - more than 30 miles by road from where they started.

Anglers say they are concerned for the welfare of the animals, as well as the freshwater fish and other wildlife they encounter - and eat.

In a letter to the RSPCA, Jamie Cook, chief executive of The Angling Trust, has asked the charity to "immediately cease re-introductions at the Sutton Bridge".

He added: "Having worked so hard to rescue and rehabilitate these seals there is an interest for all in seeing them returned to their natural environment and their colonies in the Wash, however the current process is not achieving that aim."

The Peterborough and District Angling Association believe the seals are contributing to the decimation of fish stocks in local rivers, with the Environment Agency recently reporting that large sections of the waterway in Peterborough no longer had any fish.

A spokesman for the angling association said: "At the moment we can confirm location of seals, all believed to be different animals, at Orton Downstream, around Ferry Meadows, Stibbington and upstream as far as the river at Bluebell Lakes.

"It is the position of the P&DAA that this is unnatural and constitutes a direct threat to inland fisheries from a marine mammal. These animals are clearly disoriented, lost and unable to return to their colonies and natural environment."

The RSPCA says it has "always" released seals at Sutton Bridge, like these ones in 2017.

In 2017, the RSPCA explained why it "always release[s] seals into the River Nene at Sutton bridge".

"This takes them out to the exposed sandbanks in the Wash where there are other wild seals," a spokesperson said at the time.

"The RSPCA uses this route after data from its satellite tracking study of 2004 showed that this release method is ideal for the seals and gives them a good start to life back out at sea. From there they are able to return to familiar waters on their own."

In response to the Angling Trust's call for releases to stop, the RSPCA 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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