With his handsome chestnut plumage and rapacious sexual appetite,
the ruddy duck has long been designated a ruddy pest.
Every year, the promiscuous male of the British species flies south to Spain
where he ravishes females of the rare white-headed duck.
Such is the ruddy duck’s success with the ladies in Spain – to the humiliating detriment of the cuckolded male white-heads there – that Madrid complained of the threat to its native bird’s survival.
Not satisfied with one partner, the blue-billed British birds with snow-white cheeks have let their fancies take flight.
They fathered so many cross-breed ‘Euro ducklings’ that the precious line of white-heads was in danger of being bred out of existence, causing all manner of a flutter in diplomatic corridors.
And so, to appease the Spanish, British ministers have spent ten years and £4million trying to slaughter the ruddy duck.
In February, 6, 2014 it emerged they have found a further £120,000 of taxpayers’ money to fully exterminate the British species,
even though it causes no harm in the UK.
An estimated 100 – or even as few as 20 – remain, hiding among the reeds in remote watery corners of England, Wales and Scotland.
Now there is a £2,500 bounty on each coppery head, and one day the final ruddy duck will peer above the rushes and stare down the barrel of a hunting rifle.
The massacre of the ruddy duck was ordered in 2003 by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs following a series of protests from Madrid.
So far the cull has claimed some 5,500 ruddy ducks, causing anger among British conservationists, bird lovers and landowners.
Brian Ankers, chairman of Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve in Cheshire, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘They are beautiful things. It’s very sad and I can’t make sense of it.
‘They’ve never been a nuisance here and it seems a ridiculous amount of Government money to spend on getting rid of them.’ Lee Evans, of the British Birding Association, said: ‘The whole thing is a fiasco.
‘It’s a total waste of public money, and all that will happen when the cull stops is that new ducks will fly over from the Continent, and we’ll be back to square one.’
There are still relatively large populations of ruddy duck in France and Netherlands, meaning that even if the British effort is successful, the tragic loneliness of male white-head ducks in Spain may continue.
Defra said the Government’s action was ‘in line with the commitment of other European countries to eradicate ruddy ducks elsewhere by 2015’.