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NETWORK International Conference
An Overview of the Problems in Waterfowl Management
Author: Dr Chris J Spray, Environment Director, Northumbrian Water
The Management of Waterfowl Populations, particularly in an urban environment is surrounded by potential areas of difficulty. Some of these are the result of deliberate manmade interference, some the result of natural variations in populations and some the consequence of often unseen changes in habitat and catchment features well away from the site in question. Whatever the cause, waterfowl are particularly visual and changes in their numbers and their health are very obvious to local residents and visiting tourists alike.
For many years man has had a close affinity with waterfowl and as a result their management has been researched, whether by evolution of trial and error, or by academic thesis. From the Chinese use of cormorants to catch fish, to the medieval farming of mute swans in Britain for the table, water populations have been used and abused, manipulated and improved for mans purposes the whole world over. Nowadays we can fix a radio tag to a swan and track its migration by satellite, or record the heart rate of a tufted duck as it dives, but we are still a long way from being able to successfully manage at all times the ecology of the local park lake.
For all this closeness to man and all the research problems in waterfowl management abound, whether on the wilds of the arctic tundra or the lakes and ponds of suburban England. So what are the main problems and how can they be viewed? Obviously there are many ways to look at this but behind all of them is essentially the (temporary) production of an imbalance between the individuals that go to make up a population and some aspect(s) of their environment be it local or a thousand miles away at the other end of the migration route. Most problems have their origins ultimately in human interference in once natural eco-systems.
One way to view the major problems is to divide them into those that affect individuals and those that affect whole populations or sub-populations. Whilst the former may cause injury, discomfort or death, often with immediate reactions from the public, it may not be a problem either of a permanent nature to the individual concerned, nor more importantly to the survival of the species, at that location or globally. In wild populations of small passerines such as robins, much of this individual suffering is never seen. Waterfowl on the other hand are very visible to the public.
At the individual level we can recognise a number of problems impacting on waterfowl management.
·Diseases botulism, Newcastle disease, etc.
·Injuries from fighting, powerlines, etc.
·Food availability over abundance or shortage, locally, temporarily, etc.
·Human interference disturbance from fishing, recreation, bird watching, etc.
·Human impact Oil spills, lead poisoning, etc.
Some of the individual problems may escalate but there are other more widespread problems which manifest themselves more at a population level.
·Habitat loss drainage, urbanisation, etc.
·Harvesting shooting, trapping, etc.
·Competition between waterfowl and other animals
·Alien introductions competition between species
·Eutrophication Agricultural runoff
·Background pollution urban drainage
·Climate change distribution and migration patterns
Similarly at both the individual and population levels we can see a range of problems that waterfowl cause other animals, plants and even humans.
·Habitat damage bank erosion, marginal vegetation
·Agricultural damage grazing, rape fields
·Fishery damage cormorants, goosanders
·Faecal human health, visual amenity
·Individual aggression rogue territorial males
At another level altogether though, there is an overriding "problem" of the definition of roles and responsibilities of the human animals in this waterfowl world. Who exactly "owns" a duck or goose or swan (crown property)? Who has rights or responsibilities if a bird apparently becomes ill or is a nuisance to other birds, local animals or children? And when and how are lines of communication between the different "experts", owners, do-gooders, concerned amateurs and the general public kept clear and well informed.
Underpinning the solution to all these problems must be adherence to two clear principles. We must act on a sound scientific basis (so that decisions are made with the best possible information), and we must communicate between the various parties involved (to ensure these decisions are understood). Not all waterfowl management is obvious, nor indeed pretty! Finally we must also beware the temptation to "play God", just because a particular situation happens to agree with our own current personal prejudices and opinions.
Northumbrian Water Limited
Tel: 0191 383 2222
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