The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley)
The North American ruddy duck is an introduced non-native species. A native of North America, where it has a secure conservation status, it was introduced to wildfowl collections in the UK in the 1940s, but a small number escaped from captivity and began to breed in the wild. As the UK population of wild ruddy ducks has risen, so has the number of ruddy ducks on the European mainland. The ruddy duck has been proven to hybridise with the globally threatened white-headed duck in Spain. The West European population of white-headed ducks is estimated at around 2,300 birds and hybridisation is recognised as the most significant threat to the species' long-term survival.In July 2002, my Department published the results of the ruddy duck control trial, copies of which are available in the Library of the House. The report indicates that eradication of ruddy ducks from the United Kingdom was feasible within ten years, and that shooting was the most effective means of control tested in the trial.Defra sought advice from its statutory scientific advisors and consulted with the devolved administrations on the outcome of the trial, and the next steps to protect the white-headed duck from the threat of hybridisation. It took the views of landowners and non-governmental organisations, and on 27 February I met representatives of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Wildlife Trusts.On the basis of these discussions the Government agree in principle that eradication of the ruddy duck in United Kingdom is the preferred outcome. The UK holds by far the largest proportion of ruddy ducks in Europe, and without action in the UK, the survival of the white headed duck as a distinct species would be severely compromised. However, in confirming this decision, the Government have also concluded:
that further research work into control techniques is still required. This will determine more efficient techniques of control, and further explore the use of alternative control measures, such as egg pricking;
that the protection provided by domestic legislation to protect the ruddy duck should be removed;
that the UK cannot act alone in removing the threat posed by the ruddy duck. We will continue to work with our European partners to ensure that all appropriate action is taken to sustain the white headed duck.