Brits cry fowl over Spanish-led duck cull

The British government has been criticized for its 'Captain Ahab-style' persecution of ruddy ducks, after it complied with diplomatic requests from Madrid to eliminate the species to prevent it flying south to cross-breed with Spain's own native white-headed duck.

Brits cry fowl over Spanish-led duck cull
The row dates back to 2003 when Spain complained to Britain that promiscuous ruddy ducks were migrating south and breeding with the endangered Spanish white-headed species. Photo: Dave Slater

The row dates back to 2003 when Spain complained to Britain that promiscuous ruddy ducks were migrating south and breeding with the endangered Spanish white-headed species.

Males of the native species were unable to compete successfully with their bolder northern cousins who were originally introduced to Europe from North America over 50 years ago.

They escaped from a private wildlife sanctuary in Gloucestershire owned by the naturalist Sir Peter Scott and began breeding in the wild, according to UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

The UK has already spent £4 million ($6.56 million) on exterminating the majority of the 6,000 ducks that were estimated to be roaming free in 2000.

It recently announced that a further £120,000 would be made available to wipe out the 50 or so that remain, putting a bounty on the head of every fugitive fowl.

Some people are unhappy about what they see as mis-use of government funds.

"The cost of finishing them off has risen to £4,800 per brace," the Telegraph wrote in an editorial.

"For that, the creatures could be tempted with caviar, flown first class to their native continent and settled for life in an MP-style bespoke duck-house."

Although the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the UK's leading bird charity, has supported the cull, other birders – as fans of birdwatching are known – are less sympathetic.

"It’s very sad, and I can’t really make sense of it," said Brian Ankers, chairman of Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve in Cheshire. "They’ve never been a nuisance here, and it seems a ridiculous amount of money for the Government to spend on getting rid of them."

Lee Evans of the British Birding Association said, "The whole thing is a fiasco. It's a total waste of public money, and all that will happen when the cull stops is that new ducks will fly over from the Continent, and we’ll be back to square one."

He added: "The ruddy ducks are frankly a bit dim. They try to escape by diving, but when they come up they get blasted. So they’re, literally, sitting ducks. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s horrible."

Some birders likened government scientist Iain Henderson, the man allegedly in charge of the cull, to Moby Dick's Captain Ahab because of his passion for eliminating the birds.

On the Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency) website, Henderson wrote: “It is now clear that eradication of ruddy ducks from the UK is feasible, and Defra [the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has agreed to fund additional work … which should result in further significant falls in the population. This is in line with the commitment of other European countries to eradicate ruddy ducks elsewhere by 2015, which will ensure that the threat posed by ruddy ducks to the white-headed duck is finally removed."

He added: "The presence of birds at any site can still be reported and this will assist us in the final stages of the eradication."

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Spain’s Alicante aims to limit hiking and ban outdoor sports in iconic nature spots

Environmental authorities in the Spanish region of Valencia want to limit hiking and ban rockclimbing and canyoning in popular retreats in Alicante, Valencia and Castellón provinces to preserve these natural habitats and their local species.

Hiking in Valencia might be banned.
Barranc de l'Infern in Alicante province. Photo: Diana TV/Flickr

The Valencian region’s Climate Emergency Department is planning to establish several Special Conservation Zones in popular natural spots in the eastern region, where climbing and canyoning will be prohibited and hiking will be limited.

If the new rule comes into force, it will affect a large portion of the province of Alicante, including popular retreats in nature such as the Barranc de l’Infern river and its hiking route, Puigcampana and Ponoig, one of the best-known climbing spots in the region.

So far, the project is just a proposal, but it has already angered mountain-sport lovers and businesses throughout the region. 

Canyoning and climbing are considered “incompatible” practices with the preservation of natural habitats, according to the first draft of the new decree.

As well as banning these two popular sports, the new rule proposes that hiking in groups of more than 30 people will have to undergo prior evaluation.

Hiking in Puigcampana, Valencia. Image: NH53 / Flickr

The objective of the Department of Climatic Emergency is to extend this new rule and the creation of the ZECs to all the natural spaces included in the Natura 2000 Network within the Valencian Community.

The regulations of the European Union on these sites imply that they must guarantee the preservation of species of fauna and flora. 

For example, in the Special Conservation Zone (known as a ZEC) de la Marina, the decree states that species such as otter, river crab and Cobitis paludica fish will be protected, while the mountains in the centre of Alicante, it’s Bonelli’s eagle, the trumpeter bullfinch and the eagle owl, which must be protected. 

However, according to sources of Las Provincias news site, the European legislation does not prohibit climbing, canyoning and hiking from being carried out within them.

The new proposal has taken many groups by surprise as they were not told of the new proposal beforehand, and are unaware of what the economic and social implications will be.

The President of the Federation of Sports in the Mountains and Climbing in the Community (Muntanya i Escalada de la Comunitat) Carlos Ferrís, pointed out that “the preservation of the environment does not have to be incompatible with these sports” and said that the limitations are not justified by any scientific report.

Hiking in Ponoig, Valencia. Image: Lisa Risager / Flickr

Pedro Carrasco, manager of CV Activa, an association that brings together companies who target active tourism agreed, when he told Las Provincias: “They would have to do a detailed study of each and every place to assess the conditions. It cannot be based on intuition alone”.

These rural tourism businesses do however agree that there can be some limitations on the practice of these sports, but that they shouldn’t be prohibited year round.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The most picturesque day trips in Spain’s Alicante province