Dabbling ducks struggling in floods

 
Ducks feeding Pintails feed by dabbling

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Wildlife organisations are being very careful in assessing the impacts of the recent flooding on species and the environment.

"We are not saying this is a disaster or this is something where wildlife has really suffered," Grahame Madge from the RSPB told me, keenly aware that when people's lives and homes are being threatened by rising waters, concerns about animal life comes a distant second.

Certainly the December storms and tidal surges had potentially very serious implications for many coastal habitats and species.

A report drawn up by Natural England showed that over 40 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England had been affected.

However, the impact of the unprecedented downpours on the Somerset Levels, the Thames and the Severn is much harder to gauge.

Birds and animals should in many cases be able to move away from relatively slow rising river floods, unlike tidal surges.

Good weather for ducks?

However, there are worries about some small mammals, particularly hedgehogs, who are hibernating at this time of year. The RSPB expects that many of those caught in flooded areas will drown.

Dabbling ducks will also face problems.

These are water birds that love to stick their bottoms in the air as they up-end in the shallow reaches searching for food.

Mallards, teals and pintails are common on the Somerset Levels but according to Grahame Madge, the floods will have made it difficult for them to feed.

"These are a group of ducks that take food from the few inches at the top of the water column, when it is too deep beyond their dabbling ability they have to move on to other sites," he said.

The RSPB suspects that many of these ducks have moved on to other, more inaccessible sites in the Levels but the floods are making it very difficult for their counters to get out and make certain.

Kingfisher Silt is a problem for kingfishers

Another bird struggling in the ongoing wet conditions is the Kingfisher. You might be forgiven for thinking that with all the water about, these fish loving brightly coloured fellows would be in their element.

Sadly, that would be short-sighted.

"They suffer when you get a high silt load in the water as they can't see to fish," said Grahame Madge.

"Temperature wise it is probably ideal for them, but when you get these brown rivers they can't see to fish, I would suspect that some kingfishers would be facing a really hard time at present."

Poisoned land

There have been some concerns that the massive amount of flooding now being seen across farmland may pick up and concentrate agricultural fertilisers, leading to a poisoning of the water and the land.

"The thing is that maybe smaller floods are worse for over-enrichment," said Tim Collins, from Natural England.

"What we are getting here is massive dilution, so it may be that the stuff that might have been deposited with smaller inundations may actually be dissolved and washed away - we simply can't tell yet."

There have also been suggestions from animal welfare campaigners that other species, including badgers, may be threatened by the duration of the floods.

They argue that animals that have been subjected to a pilot culling trial in Somerset may now be facing a more natural threat.

"Some setts will almost certainly have been damaged or flooded out completely, meaning that whole badger families could be disturbed," said Mark Jones from Humane Society International.

"There will be cubs in those setts right now and it's possible that some cubs will have drowned too."

The scale and extent of the impact of flooding on species like badgers has still to be determined.

According to Tim Collins from Natural England, flooding is part of the way that natural systems work and wildlife generally can cope.

"From an ecological perspective, mortality is a natural occurrence and not something we should be unduly disturbed about at a species level."

What is certain is that there has been plenty of damage being done to conservation infrastructure such as smashed up bird watching hides, footpaths washed away and visitor centres being flooded.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust suffered badly as a result of the December surges, and are now looking at £1m insurance claim for damages to paths, hides and buildings.

"At Gibraltar Point which is one of our most popular nature reserves, we're not going to have a visitor centre there for a significant time because it needs complete rebuilding," said Rachel Shaw with the Trust.

"People can still go bird watching but it changes the whole nature of that place as a nature reserve."

It will take some time for the waters to recede, but it will take longer for a full assessment of the true cost of flooding on wildlife and the environment.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

 
Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    Last winter we had a kingfisher take up residence in a salt water Medway marina. It happens in really cold weather when fresh water freezes. I haven't seen it this year, I guess due to the abundance of liquid fresh water inland. Sometimes nature adapts better than we give it credit.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    You don't say.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 20.

    "According to Tim Collins from Natural England, flooding is part of the way that natural systems work and wildlife generally can cope."

    Yes, but humans in this country can not generally cope with the flooding. The last thing on peoples minds who are affected is surely wondering when the next time they can go birdwatching.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 18.

    14. And_here_we_go_again

    -- bad for ducks (water too deep) and for Kingfishers (can't see the fish). So yes, you did miss something

    ---------------------------------

    Yes I read the article. I suggest the ducks will fly elsewhere, quite common I believe. The kingfishers in the local stream seem perfectly okay. So I will point out again less than 0.01% of the UK is flooded

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 17.

    @13 HilaryJ

    After 3 weeks all surface plants including grass die, a few weeks later trees begin to die, even soil bacteria has died.

    Famine follows flood - all last years food destroyed, this years food cant grow and next years affected due to pollution.

    Pestilence breeds on the dead corpses of both flesh & plant, stagnant water breeds mosquitos spreading blood born disease.

    Disgusted.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 16.

    Its been a great winter for all wildlife, only had 1 night of frost here in the west country. Birds not empting my feeders, unlike last winter when i couldnt fill them up fast enough.
    Lots of insects around too .... expect a plague of flies this summer.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 15.

    I think that this story, illustrated with ducks, is poorly researched. The writer has forgotten that ducks fly- sometimes tens of thousands of miles. If they find where they are to be less than congenial then they fly away.

    The part about the condition of the soil is well made and the consequences will be little food production for this year from the flooded area.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 14.

    10.Arthur Daley
    "I thought ducks could float and move and fly, must have missed something"

    Did you not read the article? It explains why the floods may be bad for ducks (water too deep) and for Kingfishers (can't see the fish). So yes, you did miss something.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    6.JackMaxDaniels

    '28,000 acres of the environment destroyed, every living thing dead even the soil bacteria.'

    Really? There is life at the bottom of ponds and in paddy fields. Many kinds of soil bacteria are anaerobic. They don't want oxygen. My great grandfather was a drowner. He used to control the flooding of water meadows to improve early grass growth.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    I can't help but feel a little more sympathy for the long suffering human residents of the levels, in similar reclaimed/drained land in holland they haven't had serious flooding since 1953.
    I've heard that in 2008 a royal ordnance factory closed and turned off its pumps (3000,000,000 ltr PA), DEFRA were informed but didn't act.
    Sir Humphrey needs firing, but nothing on the beeb.
    Link on request.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 11.

    Wetland species are very highly threatened in Britain - a naturally wet region. Water and floods can benefit them by suppressing competitors needing drier ground. Some species require occasional floods. That's life, and accepting it does not imply less concern for people.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 10.

    I thought ducks could float and move and fly, must have missed something

    Birdwatchers cant watch birds for a while, shame

    Hedgehogs have a problem in flooded areas, what percentage of the UK is flooded then, you know in terms of area. Lets take a major flood area, the Somerset Levels, 65 sq miles. Area of UK 80K sq miles. Hedgehog problem not nice but hardly an extinction threat

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    Too wet, even for ducks?

    Well, well, that is a record!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 8.

    Lets be honest here the real issue with this flooding is one the BBC have been very carefully avoiding. This is not a natural flood, this is a flood actually caused by flood defences. The rule of the system is that a few animals drown and a few rural peoples homes have to be sacrificed to save great mother London from getting her feet wet.

 

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