Cull wipes out Scotland’s ruddy duck population

A DECADE-long cull has succeeded in wiping out Scotland’s entire population of ruddy ducks.

The ruddy duck, a native of north America, escaped from a private estate in England. Picture: Getty
The ruddy duck, a native of north America, escaped from a private estate in England. Picture: Getty

The birds, originally from north America, threatened the existence of European white-headed ducks in Spain where they regularly flew to from Scotland to interbreed.


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An eradication programme, run by UK Government agency DEFRA, and supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, began ten years ago. Yesterday it was called off, with experts claiming there are just two male ruddy ducks and no female breeding birds left in the country.

Ruddy ducks were first spotted in Scotland more than 60 years ago after escaping from a private estate in Gloucestershire in the 1940s.

Spanish conservationists complained that the birds threatened the survival of their own rare white-headed ducks by interbreeding with them. And they proved problematic to native white-headed ducks due to their aggressive courting and breeding styles, which made them a preferred mating partner for female white-heads.

The first hybrid white-headed ducks were seen in Spain around 1990.

Identifiable by their bright blue beaks, at their peak there were an estimated 6,500 ruddy ducks in the UK.

In Scotland it has cost around half a million pounds to eradicate the country’s population. It is estimated it cost around £2,000 to exterminate each individual bird using specially trained government marksmen with high velocity rifles.

Stan Whitaker, SNH’s invasive non-native species expert, said the cull had been a success in Scotland, with no female ducks remaining.

He added: “In Scotland there seem to be just two male ruddy ducks left, so our policy for those is to let them die out naturally. One of those males spends most of his time in Glasgow’s Hogganfield Park, which is close to the city centre and the other male is in Fife.”

Whitaker admitted the cull had sparked an ethical debate. “When it was first announced, it was quite controversial because the impact from the ducks wasn’t being felt in the UK and people don’t like the thought of fluffy feathery things being culled.

“It has been pretty costly and I would say at least half a million pounds has been spent in Scotland, but it has been a project to nip the problem in the bud – early prevention will save more significant costs later on.

“It has been a success in terms of white-headed ducks, they are at much less risk of hybridisation than before – it has saved a fairly iconic duck in Spain,” he added.

Grahame Madge, senior spokesman for RSPB Scotland said supporting the cull had been a “difficult decision” for the organisation.

“The end of the cull is not a time for celebration, and for the RSPB lethal control is always the absolute last resort, but there was no other alternative to ensure the future of the white-headed duck, which now has a much better chance of survival.

“This is an opportunity to learn the lessons of problems that can be caused by non-native species.”

But Libby Anderson, director of policy at animal protection charity OneKind said it was “unethical” to favour one species of duck over another. “Culling is a blunt instrument employed against wild animals which are simply behaving naturally and getting on with surviving,” she said.