The controversial five-year cull of the UK’s population of non-native ruddy duck being undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has, according to figures revealed by DEFRA last week, cost taxpayers £4.6million and accounted for more than 6,200 birds — a cost of approximately £740 per bird. Despite its extent and expense, critics of the culling programme argue it will not be completely effective as pockets of the birds remain.

The culling programme, scheduled to finish this August, is being undertaken in order to protect the threatened Spanish population of white-headed duck with which the ruddy duck has been known to interbreed. In Spain, control of ruddy duck is ongoing. Six ruddy duck were seen there in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, and all of them were culled. The culling programme in the UK has seen far larger numbers of ruddy duck eradicated. At the start of the programme in September 2005, the UK population of the duck was estimated at 4,400. Since then FERA has culled more than 6,200 birds, with the most recent cull taking place just days ago in Hampshire. The remaining population is estimated to number only a few hundred birds.

Several online birding sites and forums have highlighted the expense of the culling operation and have criticised the “Government marksmen” and “DEFRA gunships” employed on the UK’s lakes to cull the duck. The jobs of culling operatives were filled following advertising in the pages of Shooting Times several years ago. Indeed, the accuracy of the “marksmen” has countered the argument that the cull would impact on non-target species. During a three-year trial cull between 1999 and 2002, a total of 15 non-target species were shot, in comparison with 2,651 ruddy duck culled, which equates to a 0.006 per cent rate of errors.

The rest of this article appears in 10th February issue of Shooting Times.

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