Feeding ducks = littering ?

How many of us remember feeding the ducks by a river or in the park when we were little ? I remember it as something that everyone did and you took it for granted that it was OK to do so. I am reminded by my mother that, on one of our visits to see my grandmother in my early days, we were feeding the birds in Poole Park and, in the process, I was bitten by a swan. I’m glad to say that I can’t remember that. But it was all a great way to learn about wildlife.

It’s interesting how much the wiser we all are nowadays. The experts point out that feeding bread to ducks isn’t giving them the nutritional value that they need – it fills them up and calls upon their digestive juices without doing them any good. In fact the RSPB recommends that we feed other types of food to ducks : porridge oats, cake crumbs (because of the sugar content) and potatoes, not to mention rice and scraps of pastry. That way the birds will receive the nutrients that they need to grow successfully into adulthood.

“Has George gone off the rails ?”, you may be asking yourself. “Or have I mistakenly tuned into a natural history website ?” Don’t worry – this is all leading, as usual, to a litterary point.

That point is that a woman has recently been fined £75 for feeding the ducks with her little boy in Smethwick Hall Park in the West Midlands. “Oh, no!”, I hear you exclaim. “Not another case of petty officialdom going fine-crazy” – like the fines issued to the lady in Hull whose child dropped a half-eaten sausage roll or to the man in Ayr who dropped a £10 note.

Well – make your own mind up. The lady was fined because, it seems, there had been complaints about children slipping on the duck mess. But there were no signs up prohibiting feeding of the ducks, apparently. What is more, the warden who issued the fine said that the lady’s 17-month-old son could continue throwing bread as he was too young to prosecute.

You can see the council’s point of view – too many ducks or Canada geese in the wrong place can be a problem – not only from the duck poo point of view. Canada geese, in particular, can be quite intimidating (boy bitten by swan talking here) and encouraging their population to grow unnaturally large isn’t necessarily a good idea.

But even Chris Packham, Kate Humble’s erudite new co-presenter on Autumn Watch, thinks that feeding ducks is an important childhood experience.

So let’s by all means put up discreet signs in places where we don’t want anyone feeding the ducks but do let’s try to avoid what many see as the unreasonable dishing out of fines when a quiet word is all that is required.

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