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Wolsingham Parish Council

Ducks; getting better!

The people of Wolsingham have long enjoyed seeing ducks on the Waskerley Beck. However, the population of ducks had reached extreme levels. In a recent (2015) assessment the Environment Agency reported finding 164 ducks on The Willows. There seem to be less now, currently about 60-70 in a recent count. They roost there at night, and the excrement they produce is problematic. The area is not fit as a children's play area or picnic site, which is its registered purpose. The area is owned and managed by DCC.

This stretch of river would naturally support about 15-20 ducks from natural foods. The young would then move away to find new sites. Due to over-feeding, the young do not move away, and more adult ducks move in. The problem of over-feeding is not caused by one or two children coming to feed the ducks (which is charming, interesting and entirely acceptable). It is caused by some adults who systematically and repeated deliver large amounts of food every day into The Willows and Demesne Mill area.

Somehow, the population is being restored to a healthy level. Culling is distasteful to most of us. Moving them away to someone else's river is unfair to the new destination... and ducks have wings. They fly back to where the easy food is. Some young people have been observed throwing stones at the ducks, which is also an unacceptable way to deal with them.

Stopping the overfeeding is the obvious answer. Please limit any feeding and make sure that all food has been consumed before you leave, otherwise rats and rooks benefit instead. The ducks soon re-distribute themselves, moving away to other areas where natural foods are available, including the River Wear and Tunstall Reservoir. However, we do not have powers to make people stop feeding them, without long and expensive legal process. The reducing numbers this year suggest that this strategy is working.

Less patient or tolerant individuals propose culling and eating the ducks - which is clearly what would have happened in the past. That is why villages had duck-ponds! We are sometimes pressed to solve the health hazard and amenity loss by "doing something". At present, we are accepting that DCC will restore and improve the amenities on the site, including some safety fencing beside the river. One kind offer to build a dry-stone wall as boundary between the river-bank and the play area has been refused by DCC as it would require planning consent, would be damaged when the river is in flood, and was not seen to enhance the area.