Today, ahead of the official start of spring and duckling hatching season, the Canal & River Trust is calling on the public to feed ducks and geese responsibly.
This is an issue that certainly makes it onto my (admittedly rather long) list of pet peeves. If you work in the arena of urban green space, chances are it’s one of yours too, and there’s quite a large reason for that – The Canal & River Trust estimate that every year 6 million loaves of bread are being thrown into waterways in England and Wales, that’s 20 Double Decker Buses full of bread thrown into canals every month. Last year more than 15 million people fed the ducks with their family or friends.
The Canal & River Trust are asking the public to exercise a crouton of common sense and consider the ramifications of their actions – ducks, of course, do not naturally eat bread. Just as too much bread is bad for humans, it’s also, obviously, bad for ducks.
I mean, personally I’d be all for banning people feeding ducks and geese altogether – well, maybe just in municipal parks – but the Canal and River Trust are nicer than I am and so they’ve suggested some alternatives for those who are hell-bent on cobbing their unwanted groceries at our waterfowl:
- Wheat, barley or similar grains
- Rice, cooked or uncooked (doesn’t make them explode)
- Milo (I don’t even know who or what that is)
- Frozen peas or corn
- Chopped lettuce or other greens or salad mixes
- Vegetable trimmings or peels
I don’t want to get into the psychology of all those duck-feeders out there too much; Maybe I’m a miserabilist, but I’ve always been a little confused by the notion of gaining enjoyment from feeding the birds. What’s the great appeal of being surrounded by ducks? Is it the honking? The quacking? The waddling? (It’s the waddling, isn’t it?). Or are they just profligate in the bakery department?
There are many reasons why loafing around like a loon, chucking bread at ducks is bad news for nature:
Pollution: Canada Geese when well fed are capable of defecating every 6 minutes. Imagine that. This, coupled with rotting bread, can cause a build up of nutrients in the water. Eutrophication is probably the major type of pollution in our lakes and ponds; it leads to monoculture water vegetation, impacting on invertebrate populations, which in turn reverberates up the food chain. By feeding rich bread to them, and at common points, we exacerbate the problem.
Pest attraction: All that bread will attract other unwelcome pests such as rats. These pests can also harbour additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans.
Loss of natural behaviour: See Canada Geese (again), which now over-winter in the UK in large numbers, in no small part thanks to our crusty handouts. Accustomed to these handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in order to get more food.
Overcrowding: With their populations artificially propped up, waterfowl raise larger broods leading to overcrowding. This increases the incidence of avian aggression and leads to controversial conversations for conservationists (try saying that quickly 10 times) when they’re asked questions like ‘why are you rubbing that goose egg in paraffin?’
To many of you all this wont be news, but I for one toast the Canal and River Trust for once again highlighting this most nefarious of past times. I blame Mary Poppins.
*I’m sorry, for a moment there I thought I was writing for The Sun