Furious residents say a 400-year-old weir has been ruined by work by an environmental charity.
The middle section of the weir at Shadfen near Bothal has been removed by the Northumberland Rivers Trust to make it easier for fish to pass through.
However, locals say it has created a ‘poachers’ paradise’ as water levels have dropped 2m, turning the deep river into a paddling pool.
Landowner Sue Mitchell said: “This was supposed to facilitate better passage for migratory fish, eels and crayfish, but what they have created is a poachers’ paradise.
“They said they were putting a notch in the weir — a weir that has been there for over 400 years. They have just taken out the whole of the middle section. There has been a 2m drop in water level. People have been coming down to take photographs. They can’t believe what has happened.
“Before you could stand with the water up to your neck, in the middle it would be over your head. Now you could paddle across it.
“This is my land and I have had no consultation whatsoever.”
A 76-year-old Pegswood resident, who does not wish to be named, said: “They have destroyed a bit of heritage. It’s disgraceful. If you had a 400-year-old house you wouldn’t be able to knock it down.
“They tried to tell me that fish couldn’t get through. I have fished there for 66 years and I have seen salmon and sea trout go up the pass. Now I won’t be able to fish there.
“Everybody in the neighbourhood used to go there. Parents would teach their kids to swim and people would spend days there, swimming and picnicking. Now they have ruined it.”
Chairman of the Northumberland Rivers Trustees John Hogger said the work was done to improve the river, and he said it will not encourage poaching as fish can travel upstream more easily.
He said: “It is one of a number of weirs on the river that are stopping fish migrating and the river is failing its UK targets for ecology. This makes the river more natural and more self-sustaining because we have removed artificial blockages. The existing fish ladder wasn’t working properly and fish weren’t using it.
“The water level has dropped upstream, but it will recover. It will look different to before and take a more natural form. Over the next months and years the river will settle to its new level.”
Environment Agency Fisheries and Biodiversity Team Leader Fiona Morris said: “The trust approached us with the plans and applied for the consent it needed to carry out this work. We were confident that flood risk would not be increased and we are satisfied that this work will have a great benefit to wildlife.”