Swans, ducks and other wildlife are frequently injured and killed by hooks and lines left behind by careless anglers. The good news is many of these injuries are preventable by following a few simple rules.

It’s not just fish that are getting caught by fishermen’s hooks and lines. Wildlife such as swans, ducks and other birds are getting tangled up and seriously injured in fishing tackle that careless anglers leave behind. In June 2020, RSPCA made an appeal to anglers to clear up fishing litter after a swan became entangled in fishing line at Gooderstone Water Gardens in Norfolk.

Wildlife centre manager Alison Charles said:

“This swan had suffered quite a gruesome injury, but we are hopeful that he will begin to eat properly again. This shows how much injury and distress can be caused by discarded fishing litter. We appeal to all fishermen and anglers to cut up line and recover hooks and take them home to dispose of properly.”

RSPCA appeal to anglers to clear up fishing litter

Now, a year later, the issue is still very much ongoing. Another rescue by the charity involved an RSPCA rescuer swimming out into a lake to save a buzzard tangled in a discarded fishing line. The injured bird of prey was hanging from a bush on an island, in a lake in Mollington Golf Course.

Chester. Anthony – one of 60 officers trained and equipped to deal with animals caught up in flooding and launch water rescue missions – said:

“Sadly, in situations like this, birds get stuck dangling in mid-air from fishing lines and as they try to free themselves they cause more damage and many end up with catastrophic injuries.”

Injuries to wildlife caused by fishing tackle are very common. Nationally about 3,000 swans a year are reported to be affected, along with many more birds and mammals. The RSPCA often finds swans affected by lead poisoning, particularly from anglers’ weights, despite the use of most sizes of lead weights now being banned.

Only a few pieces may be enough to poison a bird. Sudden death can result, but more commonly the bird becomes dull and weak, gradually eating less and losing weight. Starvation may be the cause of death. Weakness of the muscles causes difficulty in the head being held up, called limber neck. Treatment is possible, but requires hospitalisation and daily injections, often for several weeks.

Sometimes the injuries are too extensive and there is no chance of recovery. As well as lead, fishing line is a common cause of animal injury as it does not rot and lasts for many years in the environment. If not disposed of carefully, it can cause a wide range of injuries. If it becomes entangled around a bird’s legs and wings, it can cause a tourniquet effect leading to the loss of the limb.

If swallowed, it can cause a blockage of the gullet, leading to starvation. More often than not the line becomes caught around the beak: repeated attempts at swallowing then cause a cheese wire effect, leading to severe internal injuries.

RSPCA wants fishermen to tidy up after themselves and act responsibly.

The trouble is that line entangled around a bird can often be very difficult to spot, at which point capture and close examination is imperative to save the bird. The sad truth is that by the time they are sick enough to be spotted and caught, many birds are too ill to recover. It’s hardly surprising then that the RSPCA wants fishermen to tidy up after themselves and act responsibly.

The charity is also keen for fishermen to clean up hooks, which may be swallowed by birds, possibly because shiny objects are attractive. Barbs add to the injury and mean the bird has little chance of removing the hook itself. As a result, damage to the mouth, tongue, gullet and internal organs are common. Removal often requires an anaesthetic and a long period of rehabilitation.

The good news is that many of these injuries are preventable simply by following a few simple rules:

  • Use lead-free weights
  • Use barbless hooks where possible
  • Choose your position carefully to reduce the risk of snagging on trees, vegetation or other obstructions
  • Where possible, remove any snagged tackle. If this is not possible, report it to the club bailiffs or fishery owner
  • Dispose of all litter properly, including line and hooks. Line should be burnt or cut into short lengths before disposal
  • Report any injured wildlife that you see to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999


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