CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 20



Duck decoys: stars of the pond landscape
A. acuta, Wigeon A. penelope, Shoveler A. clypeata
and Gadwall A. strepera were much less frequent.
The rapidly expanding eastern England Gadwall
population in the nineteenth century apparently
had its origins in a pair caught and bred at Dersingham Decoy, in Norfolk (Cocker & Mabey 2005).
These species are all dabbling ducks, feeding
from the water surface, and easily enticed by fed
grain. Diving ducks – Pochard Aythya ferina and
Tufted Duck A. fuligula – were more difficult to
catch, tending to dive to escape. In Essex and
Suffolk, there were specialist ‘pochard ponds’, built
with tall nets held up on long poles.
The distribution of decoys
Lincolnshire, ‘truly…the home’ of decoys, had at
least 40 scattered across the county (Defoe 1727;
Lorand & Atkin 1989), with a concentration in
the southern fens. The most famous and successful, however, was Ashby Decoy, on the edge of
Scunthorpe: from here detailed records are available, documenting an average catch of 3,000 ducks
per season, with a record of 6,357 in 1834–35
(Roebuck 1934).
East Anglian counties, too, had many decoys.
Those in Norfolk often took the form of pipes
added to existing lakes, rather than purpose-built
decoy ponds; for example, the shoreline of Mickle
Mere, at Wretham, was totally remodelled to
accommodate ten pipes. Suffolk and Essex each
had many decoys constructed, mainly near the
coast. When Payne-Gallwey was writing, Suffolk
had more working decoys than any other county.
In Essex, there were both ‘pochard ponds’, where
the elusive diving ducks were captured, and
dedicated ‘teal ponds’. Bohuns Hall, in Essex,
and Brantham, in Suffolk, functioned both as
pipe decoys and as pochard ponds, having sets of
removable poles and nets.
The other main area for decoys was Somerset
(McDonnell 1984), particularly the Levels, where
five, including a group of three on King’s Sedgemoor,
were still working in Payne-Gallwey’s time. Westbury
Decoy was a particularly early structure (or complex
of two decoys), in existence before 1635.
Small numbers of decoys appeared across
southern England and the Midlands. Many were
pipe decoys (Oakley Park, in Shropshire, was the
only place where pipes were called ‘flues’), but
A plan of a decoy pipe. A, B and C show nets fixed
to hoops of decreasing size. C and D mark the tunnel
net. E is reed screens and dog leaps. F–G is a grassy
resting area for birds. Andrew Heaton
Midlands estates in fact had a preference for a
different type of duck trap, a cage trap, worked
directly with sliding doors controlled by wires.
The decoy at Virginia Water, Surrey, was unusual
in featuring both pipes and a cage trap.
In the north of England, there were at least
14 decoys in Yorkshire, with a concentration in
the extensive marshes of the Humberhead Levels
(Limbert 1978, 1982, 1998). One Yorkshire site,
Doncaster Decoy, was notable as a municipal rather
than a private enterprise, with profits distributed
to the poor of the town. The northernmost decoy
recorded by Payne-Gallwey was at Lowther Castle,
in Westmoreland, although a late structure at
Solway Moss may have taken the record. No decoy
exists in Scotland, where one begun near Findhorn
Bay (‘set out’ by John Bradley Williams of the famed
East Anglian decoy family) was never completed.
Payne-Gallwey noted five decoys in Wales. Two
on the Gwent Levels have disappeared, one on the
Gower (Park Wern) shows up as earthworks, and
Lymore Park, in Montgomery, has a well-preserved
five-pipe decoy. The best-known of the Welsh
decoys, however, is at Orielton, south of Pembroke,
166 British Wildlife February 2016
BWM27_3 04 duck decoys.indd 166
29/01/2016 12:55

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