Controversy in the UK Over Plans to Wipe Out the Ruddy Duck

A debate raged this summer in the United Kingdom over the government’s plan to completely eradicate the UK population of the ruddy duck.

The ruddy duck is an American species of duck that was imported into Europe during the 1940s and established itself in the wild in the early 1950s after an accidental release. Currently there are an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 of the animals in Great Britain, most of them in Scotland.

The ruddy duck’s problem is that it is too successful in breeding with closely related species, most importantly the white headed duck which is endangered. Spanish authorities, for example, blame ruddy ducks that fly from the UK to Spain for causing the collapse of the white headed duck population there.

The British government has conducted a number of trials over the past few years, paying up to 1,000 pounds per ruddy duck killed. In total, 2,651 ruddy ducks were killed in the trial programs.

Criticism has come on two fronts. First, there are those who point out that at 1,000 pounds per duck the government could ship the ducks back to the United States via first class air travel.

Second, of course, are the animal rights activists. Animal Aid’s Andrew Tyler likened the concern over preserving the white headed duck to racism. He told The Herald (UK),

Obsessively targeting one species of duck whose only crime has been to mate with another amounts to speciesism.

He also told the Times (London),

. . . the whole thing is stomach-churning. This is the first attempt at an avian extermination programme.

Talk about genetic impurity is racist. This is simply what happens in nature; it’s a natural survival mechanism. The scheme is hugely unpopular and when wildlife preservation groups and landowners refuse to co-operate you are going to see government killing gangs forcing themselves on to land.

Animal Aid organized protests on August 13th and 14th against the planned cull. In a press release announcing the protests, Animal Aid Campaigns Officer Becky Lilly calls the plan to kill the ducks “ethnic cleansing”,

It is disgraceful that the government is committed to this morally repugnant and scientifically illogical slaughter programme. It is particularly disturbing that top-table conservation groups such as the RSPB and the WWT are the main movers for this scheme. They should be focussing their efforts on saving animals and their habitat rather than promoting ethnic cleansing projects. Since so much of the slaughter has already taken place in Scotland, we want the Scottish public to know what is being done in their name and with their taxes. We are confident of continued widespread support.

It’s no wonder that the front page of Animal Aid’s web site argues that, “When it comes to illuminating the core issues relating to animal cruelty, sometimes imaginative prose can reach the places straightforward factual argument cannot.” I.e., when you don’t have any straightforward factual arguments, ditch that in favor of this sort of nonsense.


Stop killing the ruddy ducks, say wildlife campaigners. Cameron Simpson, The Herald (UK), August 14, 2003.

R.I.P. Ruddy duck. The BBC, March 3, 2003.

Protesters in duck demo. Evening Times (Glasgow), August 14, 2003.

Ruddy Protests Come To Scotland. Press Release, Animal Aid, August 13, 2003.

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