Duck eggs destroyed after Mallards 'posed danger to cyclists'

Patrick Sawer
A pair of ducks in the shallows at Priory Country Park, Bedford - www.alamy.com

When the Government’s nature watchdog ordered the destruction of hundreds of duck eggs said to be posing ‘a danger to cyclists’ they might have thought they would win the gratitude of Lycra clad two wheelers.

After all, Natural England issued the licence for the destruction of 4,500 Mallard eggs in three years at a site in Bedfordshire after one applicant cited “a safety concern”, claiming there was “a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them”.

Predictably perhaps, the eggs’ destruction prompted fury among residents and wildlife campaigners.

But cyclists in the county have also criticised Natural England’s decision - saying it was “ludicrous” to carry out the destruction of the eggs in their name.

The eggs’ destruction is understood to have taken place at Priory Country Park, in Bedford, where the public can visit lakes, restaurants and food outlets, with duck’s nests close to a shared pedestrian and cycle path.

The individual who applied Bedfordshire licence applicant said the mallard population had risen dramatically and congregated around seating areas, creating the risk of collisions between birds and cyclists.

Natural England issued a licence for the destruction of 4,500 Mallard eggs in three years Credit: Dieter Hopf/ImageBroker

However, the Bedfordshire branch of Cycling UK, which represents leisure cyclists, dismissed the suggestion any cycling groups had requested the eggs’ destruction.

Steve Clarke, 69, of Cycling UK Bedfordshire, a retired engineer and lifelong cyclist, said: “The idea of cyclists supporting or calling for the destruction of duck eggs on safety grounds is quite ludicrous and frankly bizarre. We would not at all want this type of action carried out in our name.”

Mr Clarke added: “To be honest ducks are the least of our problems in that area, which is part of National Cycle Route 51. The problem we have is when it goes into busy roads and roundabouts.”

Wildlife blogger Jason Endfield, who is campaigning to reform Natural England’s “shocking” licensing system, said: “I am struggling to find the words to express my disbelief and despair that Natural England decision-makers thought it appropriate in any way to issue a licence to an applicant that seriously considered ducks to be a threat to cyclists.

“Surely someone at the agency should have challenged this stupidity at an early stage rather than proceed to issue a licence that legitimised the wanton destruction of wild birds eggs for such spurious reasons.”

Wildlife campaigners, including the TV presenter Chris Packham, have been angered by previous revelations that Natural England has sanctioned culls of rare bird species, including ravens, kestrels, moorhens, curlew, linnets, and skylarks, and the destruction of mute swan eggs.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on behalf of Natural England, said a licence would only have been issued after the applicant had submitted evidence to show that the species targeted is causing a problem; that non-lethal alternatives have been tried; that the action is proportionate and that the species' conservation status will not be negatively affected.