Could otters be the reason why there are apparently fewer ducks in Cooper’s Meadow? A recent survey by ARK indicated the presence of otters, an ‘apex predator’ for ducks, which could be a factor. Ducks, or lack of them on the Kennet in central Marlborough has become a key issue for discussion over recent months.
At last night’s virtual meeting of the Amenities & Open Spaces Committee (A&OSC) Chair Don Heath raised the issue of the wildfowl community in Marlborough’s three meadow areas – Cooper’s Meadow, Stonebridge Meadow and Jubilee Fields: ‘To consider how to address the concerns about the duck population’.
A question was posed earlier at the start of the meeting by former Councillor and Mayor Marian Hannaford-Dobson, who was “Worried about the duck and wildfowl population in the town.” This followed her recent question to the July meeting of the Town Council
“Something needs to be done” she stated, suggesting to the committee: “What I’d like you to do is put on the management plans of all three of these meadows that the duck and wildfowl population should be welcomed in the town and protected at all times.
“I’d also like if you possibly could to do small islands in the middle of the rivers so that the ducks could lay their eggs and be safe from predators”.
Chair Heath told the meeting about a recent visit he had made to all meadows concerned and that he had counted many ducks – twelve at Town Mill and a further dozen or so in the stretch down to Stonebridge.
Cllr Andy Ross reflected on the state of the river previously: “It’s not historical, when I was a boy, not a duck was seen on the river.” adding “I don’t actually see what we can do to intervene in nature, if the ducks have moved on, then they will at some point move back.”
Nigel Weatherby, the Council’s Grounds Manager denied any ‘fowl play’, he confirmed that nothing had been done by any of his team that would “have any effect on why the ducks are or aren’t there”, but raised one possible reason that was highlighted in a recent Water Vole survey conducted by ARK (Action for the River Kennet), which noted that when they came to Cooper’s Meadow, they found evidence that otters were living there. Otters are a natural (apex) predator for ducks – eating their eggs and young ducklings, and even have been known to attack fully grown ducks.
Cllr Peter Cairns noted that a recent studies by the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust found that generally there had been a decline in the overall duck population, but the fact that ARK had found evidence of otters indicated that the Kennet is in a healthy state. He also suggested that the recent period of isolation had led to a reduction of ready food for ducks in the Coopers Meadow area, and that when people returned to the area and started feeding the ducks, they would return.
He also pointed out that ducks shouldn’t be fed white bread – if bread it should be granary but ideally grain.
Cllr Heath proposed that the Council monitor the situation regarding the duck population on a quarterly basis. This was agreed unanimously.