Why have we stopped feeding the ducks?

In Autumn 2022 the rapid spread of avian influenza meant large parts of Devon became prevention zones to protect against the spread from wild bird populations into domestic birds. As such we made the decision to stop all bird feeding on our Local Nature Reserves by both site staff and visitors.

Those restrictions have now lifted, but we have noticed several benefits from stopping duck feeding specifically, which means we will continue to request that ducks are not fed on any of our nature reserves. It is not a decision we have taken lightly, as we fully recognise the enjoyment people got from this activity, but on balance it is the right thing to do for the benefit of the wildlife on the sites, particularly the ducks themselves.

Firstly at Seaton Wetlands we saw an immediate reduction in rat numbers on site. Rats were becoming an increasingly problematic species with many visitors spotting them sometimes at very close quarters. Also, such a high population of brown rats was having an impact on waterside nesting bird numbers and our water vole population, both of which can be predated by a hungry brown rat.

Secondly the mallard ducks themselves were being attracted to the sand martin cliff pool in such un-naturally high numbers that they were having an detrimental impact on the water quality and aquatic invertebrate populations in the pools around Stafford Marsh. Dense populations were also leading to stress behaviours in the mallard and these factors have all abated once feeding stopped and the ducks moved into the wider landscape and settled at much lower densities.

As we manage nature reserves for the widest possible diversity of species, reducing the impacts of human feeding for the benefit of all is something we must hold as a high priority. We will still allow small amounts of grain to be fed to the songbirds on site as the negative implications detailed above have not been observed from this behaviour, but it is hoped that people will continue to enjoy visiting our Local Nature Reserves despite our stopping duck feeding, and appreciate the amazing variety of life which can be found here and enjoyed from the various footpaths, viewpoints and bird hides.

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Bird flu (avian influenza): latest situation in England - GOV.UK (