This is a weird story. The last remaining one hundred Ruddy Ducks in England are to be shot at great expense by a government agency because the Spanish have complained that they interbreed with their own rare white-headed ducks. So far the Spaniards have killed 6,500 Ruddy Ducks at a cost of over £5 million, but agencies say that killing the last Ruddy Ducks here will make no difference because there’s now a plague of them on the continent that will evade capture.
It’s Cane Toads all over again. For the past five years, teams of seven marksmen have been employed to go out in boats to kill the birds across England. They spend £7,000 on each cull. The ducks dive to escape but the shooters circle the birds, get them exhausted and then kill them. They really are sitting ducks.
But the ducks aren’t English – they’re from America, like the grey squirrels that ate all our nice red ones – and their invasion is all the fault of a conservationist.
The bird’s origin in Europe goes back to 1948 when the naturalist bird painter Sir Peter Scott introduced three pairs from the US to his reserve in Gloucestershire. The population grew rapidly and some escaped, leading to a population of many thousand by the 1980s. But they also made their way to mainland Europe and found a niche in Spain where the first hybrids white headed ducks were seen in around 1990.
Sir Peter Scott can’t be charged with the clean-up because he’s brown bread. And anyway, why should one breed be favoured over another? (I’m sure you know the answer and will tell me, but dear God, keep it short). Why should there be Duckmagedon? They look fluffy and quite nice, and you can at least eat them, whereas all you can do with Cane Toads is suck them and get high, apparently.
Planet management never gets easier. On the island of Macquarie, between Australia and Antarctica, cats left by ships got rid of the mice but preyed on rare flightless birds, so conservationists culled them, only to watch horrified as the rabbit population exploded and stripped the island of its vegetation, causing a landslip that wiped out a rare penguin colony. The chain of events is an example of ‘trophic cascade’ leading to ‘ecosystem meltdown’.
Okay, I admit it. Yesterday’s new Apple product launch was more boring than anyone expected and disappeared from the press quickly, leaving a whole in their pages – hence the duck story.