White-Headed Duck Task Force

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Recommendations for action within the UK to conserve the globally threatened White-headed duck



1: Introduction


1.1
The white-headed duck is classified as globally threatened. The estimated world population is 9,400-16,400 birds and the West European population is estimated at only 1000 birds, which all breed in Spain. This population has grown from only 22 individuals in the 1970s because of a determined and costly effort by the Spanish Government and conservationists.

1.2 The main threat to the Spanish population of white-headed duck is interbreeding with non-native North American ruddy ducks. Observations have proved the hybrids are fertile, and therefore pose an increasing threat to the white-headed duck. Without the presence of ruddy ducks, because their breeding sites are protected, the white-headed duck population in Spain is thought to be self-supporting. If left unchecked the expansion of the ruddy duck could also threaten the populations of white-headed duck in Turkey and further east.

1.3
The ruddy duck is a North American species originally imported into Europe through wildfowl collections in the United Kingdom. Some birds escaped from these collections and formed a free flying population. That population now numbers around 4,000 birds, having increased tenfold between 1975 and 1990.

1.4 Analysis of the population change in ruddy ducks in the UK following initial escapes shows how numbers have increased and the range widened over the years. The pattern of occurrence in Spain correlates with the UK increase and did not begin until ruddy ducks were well established in the UK. This suggests that emigration from the UK accounts, in most part, for the ruddy duck occurring on the continent and on the Spanish white-headed duck breeding grounds. There are also very small numbers of ruddy ducks breeding in the wild in some European countries, as well as captive populations. These could contribute to the problem in Spain and so will need to be controlled if a sustainable solution is to be found.

1.5
Ruddy ducks have now been sighted in 19 European and North African Countries. Action is being taken in some of these countries with ruddy ducks being shot in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and recently France has introduced a programme of eradication. However the numbers in continental Europe are small (less than 10% of the UK population), and if no effort is made to control the source population in the UK action taking place in these countries could be compromised.

1.6 On the 6 July 1998 the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher announced the creation of the white-headed duck task force to advise on the action required in the United Kingdom to conserve the globally threatened white-headed duck. Michael Meacher added that: "The white-headed duck is one of Europe's rarest birds. Without action to reduce the threat posed by North American ruddy ducks it is likely that the white-headed duck will become extinct. The new task force of Government and conservation bodies will advise on the most effective and practicable means of achieving that reduction."

1.7
This report summarises the main conclusions of the task force.


2: Terms of Reference and Membership


2.1
The terms of reference were:

a. recommend the best scientific and cost-effective method of carrying out a control trial of the ruddy duck in order to assess whether it is necessary and practicable to move to a larger control strategy;

b. plan and coordinate the implementation of a control trial;

c.
develop a public relations strategy to inform the public of the need for control;

d.
investigate the possibility of coordinating action within the UK with measures taken in other European countries, including sourcing of EU funds for control; and

e. recommend the adoption of measures other than control which would assist in limiting spread of the ruddy duck within the United Kingdom.

2.2 The following organisations were represented on the task force:
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
Welsh Office
Scottish Office
English Nature
Countryside Council for Wales
Scottish Natural Heritage
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
British Trust for Ornithology
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Aviornis UK
The Wildlife Trusts
BirdLife International

Task Force Recommendations and Conclusions


3: The task force's recommendation on the best scientific and cost-effective method of carrying out a control trial of the ruddy duck in order to assess whether it is necessary and practicable to move to a larger control strategy


3.1
The task force considers that any control trial should build on the information provided in the research carried out by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in 1994, funded by the then Department of the Environment (DoE). This research showed that shooting was the most efficient method of killing ruddy ducks, with trapping females during summer also being a feasible method.

3.2
The task force recommends that the aim of the control should be to test the feasibility of eradicating the UK's population of ruddy duck within ten years. The trial will determine the cost and indicate the number of birds needed to be killed each year to achieve this.

3.3 The task force recommends that the trial should take place in three areas (West Midlands, Fife and Anglesey) of the United Kingdom commencing at the start of the breeding season in 1999. The task force considers that using the experiences from several different areas within the United Kingdom to better reflect the wider range of conditions under which any future control would be taken is necessary.

3.4 Control will be carried out by using humane means, minimising disturbance to other wildlife species and their habitats.

3.5
Control will consist of a mixture of breeding, post breeding and winter control in the different areas. The ruddy duck population in three control areas will need to be assessed each year before the start of control in the breeding season. The intention of the trial will be to control the maximum number of ruddy ducks possible, using a combination of shotgun and rifle shooting.

The order of selection, wherever possible, will be -
a)
Adult Female
b) Adult Male
c) Juvenile

3.6
Where shooting at sites is not practicable then humane trapping of ruddy ducks on the nest will be undertaken. To maximise the effectiveness of the control effort, humane trapping will only be carried out when there are no available opportunities for shooting ducks at other sites.

3.7 The effects of the control will need to be closely monitored and its effects on the population modelled to assess whether sufficient ruddy ducks can be controlled to eradicate the ruddy duck population in the UK in ten years. The trial should assess the cost of achieving such a reduction.

3.8
The trial needs to assess whether compulsory access to land will be necessary to ensure the success of any future national control strategy to control ruddy ducks.


4: Plan and coordinate the implementation of a control trial


4.1 The Task Force recommends that the control trial should be undertaken under a contract managed and funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The control trial should take place over three breeding seasons.

4.2
If it appears to the Department that after the second year of breeding season control that further work is not required the contract should contain a clause which allows for its termination.

4.3 The task force recommends that the Department establishes an Advisory Committee that will comprise representatives from the Department, the contractor and other persons by agreement. This advisory committee will monitor progress and provide guidance on objectives, output, information needs and on technical and analytical matters.

5: Develop a public relations strategy to inform the public of the need for control


5.1 The task force recommended that an intrinsic part of the control trial would be an effective public relations strategy. This should emphasize the following:
  • The international biodiversity reasons for the control - highlight the threatened status of the white-headed duck - that the ruddy duck is considered the primary threat to its existence - ruddy duck is not endangered in its native range.
  • Show the efforts made by other countries to save the white-headed duck - eg the excellent work on habitat protection in Spain and the French LIFE programme for reintroduction of the white-headed duck which relies on control of ruddy ducks.
5.2 The task force recommends that the Department leads any publicity campaign for the control trial, but works with the members of the Advisory Committee.


6: Investigate the possibility of coordinating action within the UK with measures taken in other European countries, including sourcing of EU funds for control

6.1
The task force recognised that the measures outlined in the international white-headed duck action plan, produced by BirdLife International on contract from the European Commission, published by the Council of Europe, should form the basis for action across Europe to save the white-headed duck. Spain and Portugal had already put measures in place to control ruddy ducks as they arrived in those countries. France had recently announced similar measures tied into their programme to reintroduce the white-headed duck.

6.2
The task force recognised that without efforts to control ruddy ducks in the UK, efforts elsewhere within Europe may be compromised. Many other European countries were awaiting action in the UK before embarking on control programmes in their countries.

6.3 The task force agreed that coordinated action to control ruddy ducks in Europe should not await the outcome of the control trial. If the Department, after consultation with the Advisory Committee deemed larger control feasible following the control trial, this action should be coordinated with other European states.


7: Recommend the adoption of measures other than control which would assist in limiting spread of the ruddy duck within the United Kingdom

7.1 The task force welcomed the proposals by the Department to consider placing the ruddy duck on Schedule 4 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The addition of the species to Schedule 4 to the Act will allow accurate monitoring of the numbers of ruddy ducks held in captivity. The addition of the ruddy duck to Schedule 4 will mean that owners and keepers of this species must register the keeping of the bird with the Department and it should be easier to trace and prosecute people who release or allow them to escape. The task force recommends that the fee for registration should initially be set at a low level to encourage registration.

7.2 Captive bred ruddy ducks can be sold under licences issued by the Department. The task force recommends that no further licences for the sale of these birds are issued, to reduce the demand for the keeping of these birds in captivity.

7.3 The task force recommends that the Department should consider adding the ruddy duck to Schedule 2 of the 1981 Act at some stage in the future. The addition of the species to Schedule 2 to the 1981 Act will allow the bird to be legally hunted in Great Britain.

Note:

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is satisfied that evidence supports the need for action to be taken within the United Kingdom. Consideration of the need for control of ruddy ducks was not therefore within the remit of the task force. An organisation's membership of the task force does not necessarily indicate that organisation's support for control to be carried out.

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