CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 22

Duck decoys: stars of the pond landscape
Of all those which formerly existed, just three
regularly operated decoys remain in Britain. The
best-preserved is the eight-pipe decoy at Borough
Fen, north of Peterborough (Cook & Pilcher
1982). The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)
previously funded the site for ringing purposes; the
decoy, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument,
is still used for ringing, though not by WWT.
Numbers are lower now, but early ringing activity
was very successful in helping to track wildfowl
movements: between 1947 and 1977, birds ringed
at Borough Fen totalled 31,000 Mallards, 10,500
Teals, 72 Pintails, 253 Shovelers, 67 Wigeons, four
Gadwalls and three Garganeys Anas querquedula.
A decoy is operated by WWT at its headquarters
at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. This is the Berkeley
New Decoy, a four-pipe structure in a ‘skate’s egg’
formation, constructed in 1843 to replace the similar
Old Decoy when this suffered disturbance caused
by the nearby Gloucester–Sharpness Canal. The
New Decoy had declined to disuse by 1929; partly
restored in 1937, it is now maintained by WWT.
Exhibitions have been set up in a hide overlooking
the decoy and in the old decoyman’s hut, and demonstrations are given, working the decoy and ringing
any birds caught, on winter Saturdays, using a Toller
(occasionally a Black Labrador) as the decoy dog.
The nearby Berkeley Old Decoy is not operational,
although its four pipes are still discernible.
The earliest decoy still in use, dating from 1655,
is at Abbotsbury Swannery, in Dorset, where
Duck decoy at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre,
Gloucestershire. David Hosking/FLPA
a four-pipe decoy was built, together with two
pipes directly on to The Fleet (Prendergast 1987).
Detailed records of catches since 1881 exist. Two
pipes remain working, although at a low level,
catching rather few birds. The decoy is a Scheduled
Ancient Monument (SAM) and the whole site is a
significant tourist attraction, including, as it does,
the only managed swannery in Britain. The decoy
is operated by the Deputy Swanherd.
Three other decoys remain in working order,
but they are not currently being used for catching.
Although Boarstall Decoy, in Buckinghamshire, is
known originally to have been a six-pipe decoy,
the site’s early history is otherwise unclear, its
first record being on a map of 1697 (National
Trust 1991). In 1980, the decoy was purchased
by the National Trust, following which two pipes
were fully restored. The decoy was, until recently,
worked with a dog by the decoyman, the ducks
caught being ringed. Although no catching is
currently taking place, the National Trust maintains a visitor centre on the site. In addition to
Boarstall, the National Trust has about a dozen
sites which show evidence of decoy ponds (including Kedleston, Sudbury and Kingston Lacey).
Until a few years ago, Hale Decoy, on Merseyside, was managed by Cheshire Wildlife Trust. One
of the five pipes was completely restored and used
for ringing purposes. The Trust’s tenancy ended,
however, and the decoy – now leased by Halton
Borough Council and managed by a volunteer
group, The Friends of Pickering Pasture, which
also organises guided walks and displays in the
Gamekeeper’s Cottage – appears no longer to be
active as a ringing site.
The decoy at Nacton (Orwell Park), in Suffolk,
also retains in place its structure, including nets
and screens, but it is not used for catching; visiting
educational groups are welcomed. The decoy is
unique in having rustic (wooden, thatched) huts
above each pipe, so that the owner could watch
activities, and sunken walkways around the decoy,
allowing hidden access by the decoyman.
Several other former decoys are given protection in some way, 32 being scheduled as Ancient
Monuments by English Heritage. (Scheduling and
‘Monument Class Descriptions’ – definitions – are
now undertaken by Historic England.) Thirteen of
these SAMs, a seemingly high proportion, are in
Somerset. Examples of scheduled monuments come
168 British Wildlife February 2016
BWM27_3 04 duck decoys.indd 168
29/01/2016 12:55


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