Culling of the final 10 females at a cost of £3,000 a bird marks half a century of occupation by the invasive species
The Guardian, Friday 8 August 2014 14.10 BST
It is American, oversexed and over here, but the days of the ruddy duck in the UK are finally numbered, with the latest culling data revealing that just 10 females remain.
The shooting of the final few – at about £3,000 a bird – will mark the end of half a century of occupation by the species. At their peak, their numbers reached 6,500 but their breeding prowess threatened the native European white-headed duck.
The invasion began in 1948 when the famed conservationist Sir Peter Scott’s love for ducks led him to import three pairs of the colourful US birds to his Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire. But their escape and consequent flourishing in the British countryside led to an anguished debate among ornithologists decades later, as well as a nationwide cull that has cost more than £5m.
“It was a hugely difficult debate for the RSPB and a very dark day when we had to concede [a cull] was the only way forward,” said Grahame Madge, at the bird charity. “But we stand up for biodiversity internationally and sometimes you have to make very hard decisions.” The British Birding Association wanted the cull to be abandoned and others have argued the money would be better spent on other environmental schemes.
The problem is that the “sexy” male ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are preferred by female white-headed ducks. The resulting hybrid offspring threatened the survival of the white-headed duck, which was already struggling with habitat loss due to development. “Ruddy duck males are particularly aggressive when it comes to breeding and court females more vigorously,” said Madge. “That makes them more attractive to female white-headed ducks.”