Wildlife Conservation Matters – But What About the Impact on Humans?
Protecting wildlife is obviously vital but an important Court of Appeal ruling, in a case concerning traditional fishing rights in the River Severn estuary, has made clear that the impact of conservation on the livelihoods of humans must also be taken into account.
Salmon have for centuries been caught in the estuary by fishermen using baskets, known as ‘putchers’. Two of the last surviving proponents of the technique caught about 600 fish annually, earning about £60,000 a year between them. Their fishing rights were contained within leases and they paid rent.
However, the Environment Agency (EA) required them to reduce their catch to just 30 fish annually due to concerns that salmon stocks in the neighbouring River Wye were at risk of becoming unsustainable. The Wye welcomes 10,000-15,000 spawning fish each year and is classified as a special conservation area.
One of the fishermen launched a judicial review challenge on the basis that such a tight restriction on his permitted catch was unjustified as a conservation measure. It would render his operation wholly uneconomic and his lease worthless. His arguments were upheld by a judge, but the EA appealed.
In upholding the EA’s arguments in part, the Court found that extensive expert evidence provided a rational basis for placing limits on the fisherman’s catch. However, the fact that the restrictions had been imposed on environmental grounds did not mean that the impact on his livelihood could be ignored.
There was no evidence that that the EA had considered the consequences for the fisherman of reducing his annual catch by at least 95 per cent. In those circumstances, the only way in which the EA could avoid breaching his human right to peacefully enjoy his fishing rights was to pay him appropriate compensation.