I HAVE seen several cormorants on the middle reaches of the River Devon in recent weeks and these birds are increasingly frequent visitors to the river in autumn and winter.

They often like to rest on the top of dead trees and their distinctive black silhouettes can be seen from some distance away.

It is said that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and at first glance even the most gracious would find it challenging to concede any attractive physical qualities in the cormorant, especially when seen silhouetted with wings outstretched like a crucifix against an evening sky where its dark, almost pterodactyl-like form, borders on the sinister.

Certainly, the overwhelming blackness of cormorant plumage has resulted in the bird traditionally being associated with evil and greed.

The name cormorant dates to the `4th century and owes its origin to the Latin for sea raven – another bird that has long been treated with suspicion.

In his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton portrayed Satan himself breaking into Paradise and sitting on the Tree of Life "like a cormorant"; and Shakespeare’s play Richard II refers to the gluttony associated with the bird.

Cormorants are also disliked by many freshwater fishery managers and anglers.

This is a shame, and I suspect the root of much of this hatred is simply down to their physical appearance.

Kingfishers eat many fish on our rivers as do dippers, yet they do not attract the same animosity and are universally adored.

Much better to turn such negative perspectives on their head, and rather than demonising the presence of cormorants, the fact that they haunt the Devon is something to celebrate, for it means the river has plentiful fish.

The water in the Devon has been running high over the last few weeks because of the heavy rainfall, which is good news for salmon and sea trout migrating to their gravelly spawning grounds on the river and its tributaries.

Winter may be approaching, but already new life is being generated in the form of fish eggs in the river’s gravel beds, which will transform into the miracle of tiny fry come the spring.