Council bans feeding the ducks - because 'droppings could harm children'

Last updated at 15:29 25 October 2007

The age-old tradition of feeding the ducks has been banned at a picturesque village pond - because councillors fear bird droppings could harm children.

Councillors fear toxins in the droppings could harm youngsters and pollute the pond so they have banned people from throwing bread.

Official signs have been put up to remind any disobedient duck feeders the activity is now officially banned at the 400-yearold pond in Oakley, near Basingstoke, Hants.

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Oakley and Deane Parish Council admits they have little proof to back up the fears but denied it was overreacting - despite some villagers complaining at the "nanny state" style ban.

Chairman John Strawbridge said: "The pond has always been popular with locals and an attractive feature of Oakley.

"But the duck population has increased dramatically and their droppings are starting to pollute the pond and the neighbouring area.

"We don't want to be killjoys and we'd like to encourage people to carry on enjoying it, but feeding the ducks puts a strain on its entire eco-system.

"Hopefully everyone will be sensible and abide by the signs and the pond can continue to sustain the wildlife it has done such a good job of cultivating for more than 400 years."

He believes the mallards' digestive systems cannot cope with additives in bread and this is leading to an increase in the amount of waste they produce.

Councillors fear the droppings could spread disease to children because they have more vulnerable immune systems.

Mr Strawbridge said the problem had become worse over the past three or four years following an explosion in the duck population.

The pond was home to 24 ducks this summer before the council decided to relocate some to other ponds and rivers leaving nine remaining.

Parish council clerk Sally Warner said the village had been "overwhelmed with ducks" and people had been overfeeding them, with uneaten food attracting rats.

Mrs Warner added: "Some people come down with whole loaves of bread and throw it all in the pond which isn't good for the ducks or the pond."

Parish council vice chairman Margaret Burgess, 67, insisted her four grandchildren would no longer be feeding the birds.

Mrs Burgess said: "Bread is not good for the ducks' digestive systems and we think the excess droppings may be harmful and spread diseases.

"I don't know there's particular proof but that's the concern.

"I'm sure there will be some disappointed children but the ducks will still be there for them to see, they just won't be able to feed them.

"My own grandchildren have fed the ducks in the past but they definitely will not be able to now. I think they will understand why and accept what we say."

However villager Hilary Box, 75, who had a contract for 22 years to feed the ducks, described the ban as sad and symptomatic of a "nanny state" culture.

The grandmother of five, who lives in Pond Cottage overlooking the pond, was paid 70 pounds a year by the parish council to feed the ducks pellets every day until last year.

Mrs Box said: "The sign says that feeding bread to ducks can be bad for them but I think we have the healthiest ducks in the world.

"The bread does not appear to have done them any harm and they haven't suffered over the years.

"Feeding ducks is part of the English way of life, it's part of the heritage to come to the local pond with some bread.

"As long as you are not throwing excessive amounts and littering the water I see no problem with it.

"People are saying there's a risk of infection from the ducks but this is a nanny state attitude - people like me have existed for years without this kind of protection.

"I have lived here for 23 years and have always been fine. There is no danger."

Mrs Box said that over the years the number of ducks has varied and at times numbers have risen as high as 100.

The widow added: "It's always been wonderful to see families gathered around the pond feeding bread to the ducks.

"Grandchildren come to visit the village and talk about coming to feed granny or granddad's ducks. The pond is an oasis of tranquillity for young and old alike."

Marketing director Jeremy Locke today revealed he had inadvertently prompted the ban by complaining that people were overfeeding the ducks.

The father of two, whose sons are Casper, one, and two-year-old Henry, also raised the issue of ducks' droppings being potentially dangerous to young children.

Mr Locke, 35, said: "Where birds defecate on land the risk of disease becomes higher for humans and young children playing on the grass are particularly vulnerable.

"Bread and seeds left by the birds are also very attractive to rats and, as they prey on nesting bird eggs, this spells disaster for breeding water birds.

"Rats also increase the risk of dangerous diseases.

"At its current level, at the weekends, I would estimate almost an entire loaf of bread is deposited around the banks of the pond which is likely to cause yet another upsurge in the rat population.

"This will also significantly pollute the pond and, ironically, reduce the source of natural food for the ducks."

Mr Locke, who has lived in his house for four years, said he had not intended to spark a ban on feeding the ducks but had wanted to ensure people did so in moderation.

He added: "I forwarded information on the danger of bread feeding to the council and they decided to act.

"However I wasn't asking for a ban and wouldn't have chosen the wording on the sign."

Grandmother Helen Davis, 62, of Oakley, says the ban is a shame because she enjoys taking her grandchildren - Cameron, eight, and five-year-old Connor - to the pond in the summer.

She said: "I have taken Cameron and Connor to the pond for about four years to feed the ducks and it's so sad I can no longer do that.

"It is something we have all grown up with and children just love to see the ducks waddling around and pecking at the bread.

"It teaches them about wildlife and encourages them to appreciate the nature around them.

"I have only ever seen people throwing the odd slice of bread, not whole loaves."

The duck pond, which is also home to moorhens, is in the centre of the village which was recorded in the Domesday Book.

Oakley and Deane Parish Council was formed in 1894.

Three generations of the same family today came to the pond to feed the ducks and described the ban as "ridiculous".

Teacher Wendy Pott, a 53-year-old mother of four who has lived in the village for 24 years, said: "It is ridiculous and a clear case of bureaucracy gone mad.

"The people coming up with this nonsense should find something better to do with their lives and put their energy into charity work or something.

"I have been coming to this pond for years with my boys and have never had a problem.

"It's simple - if the ducks didn't want to eat the bread then they wouldn't."

Her mother in law Ellen Pott, a 75-year-old grandmother of nine, said: "They will be telling us we cannot feed the birds in our own back garden next.

"Why should this pond be any different to other ponds across the country?"

Wendy's niece Laura Pott, 14, said: "I'm a vegetarian and therefore very concerned about the ducks' welfare but it seems like a crazy idea - the ducks look fine to me."

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