Ruddy duck numbers in the UK cut to 120 by cull

A ruddy duck The government says it is committed to the eradication of the ruddy duck in the UK

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A cull of ruddy ducks in the UK has cut their numbers to just 120.

The government says about 4,400 of the birds were shot dead over the past five years.

Supporters of the cull, including the RSPB, say it is needed to protect other species from extinction. Opponents argue it is expensive and unnecessary.

The ruddy duck is originally from the United States, and came to the UK in the 1940s.

Experts say it has threatened the existence of the white-headed duck in Spain by interbreeding with it.

'Very effective'

Figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that 1,365 of the birds were killed in 2008, with the number falling to 717 in 2009, and 386 last year.

Duck shooters from the Food and Environment Research Agency killed the birds under licences issued by government officials.

Junior environment minister, Richard Benyon, said: "Defra considers the programme to date has been very effective. We remain committed to continuing the eradication programme through to completion."

The nationwide cull of ruddy ducks was ordered by the British government in 2003 after a request from Spanish authorities.

The bird was often found in the West Midlands, northern England, Anglesey and southern Scotland.

'Sad'

In 2007, bird lovers in Greater Manchester tried to get the cull stopped. They argued the white-headed duck population in Spain had recovered substantially.

Some critics argued the British cull was pointless unless other European countries also took action.

But the RSPB continues to back the actions of the UK government.

David Hoccom, head of the charity's species policy unit, said: "It is very sad that such measures are necessary, but we expect the white-headed duck's future to be more secure as a result."

"The white-headed duck has undergone a rapid worldwide decline over the last decade, making extinction a real possibility."

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