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Where are all the ducks on Grantham's River Witham?

A massive decline in the number of ducks on the River Witham through Grantham in recent years is causing concern.

Residents and a Witham environment group say the decline has been clear in the past few years as few birds flock to the river in town these days, whereas hundreds could be seen in Wyndham Park and along the waterway just a few years ago.

Members of Grantham RiverCare, a group of volunteers who keep the area clean and litter-free, have counted the wildfowl population along the River Witham between Bridge End Road and Belton Lane more than 50 times since December 2018. Among their findings they have found that the duck population has significantly fallen in recent years. They have found that male mallards were down nearly 40 per cent over the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, although numbers increased by 20 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

A River Witham with no ducks in Wyndham Park. (46460727)
A River Witham with no ducks in Wyndham Park. (46460727)

A resident of Belton Lane, whose garden backs on to the river, says her garden used to be filled with ducks and other birds and she would regularly feed them, but now only one pair of ducks visits her home.

Brenda Day told the Journal: “It upsets me immensely. We had ducks and moorhens and the garden was full of wildlife. Three years ago we noticed that they had started to go missing.”

Brenda said it was not unusual for her to feed up to 50 ducks every morning in her garden with corn.

Brenda Day's garden used to be full of ducks a few years ago. (46498909)
Brenda Day's garden used to be full of ducks a few years ago. (46498909)

She added: “We brought our kids and grandchildren up feeding the ducks in Grantham. We see people in the park with their children and they wonder where the ducks have gone.

“I think it is so sad that we have such a beautiful park but it’s not normal that all the birds have gone.

“I think it is a really sad state of affairs when all that money has been spent on building a visitor centre in the park and cutting down oak trees. What is going on with the river? It’s so frustrating.”

Ian Simmons, co-leader of Grantham RiverCare, said members had gathered data on wildfowl numbers, and although this wasn’t scientific it did show a significant reduction in numbers.

Their studies show that male mallard numbers are down 25 per cent between January and March this year compared to 2019 and female mallards are down 20 per cent over the same three-month period. Moorhens are down 40 per cent, but from a low base (average of five in January to March 2019, to two in 2021).

Ian said “2020 seemed to be a bad year for our ducks.”

He said male mallards were down nearly 40 per cent over the first quarter in 2020 compared to 2019, although they seem to have shown a resurgence this year.

Ian added: “Wild populations will and do fluctuate over time. It is important to recognise this and keep a check on these changes.

“Many things can affect numbers including weather extremes, food supplies and predators.

“Grantham RiverCare volunteers regularly monitor water quality at nine points around Grantham as part of this process. We also work closely with Anglian Water and the Environment Agency to report any pollution incidents that we spot.

“Within Wyndham Park, we have tried to influence visitors to feed less bread and to vary what they offer to ducks.

“Too much bread can be bad for the ducks – it swells and reduces appetite for no real energy value – and that which is not eaten will rot in the river releasing toxins that can affect other animals.

“Another risk to ducks and wildlife generally is the thoughtless disposal of face masks. These contain a lot of plastic which will not degrade early or quickly in the environment. Please throw these away correctly.”

Grantham bird expert Dave Roberts, however, disagrees that there has been much change in recent years. He said: “I too have heard concerns from local people regarding mallard numbers decreasing in the town. Tales of people catching them to eat etc, but to be honest I can’t say I have noticed any significant decline myself.

“Maybe long term there may be fewer, but certainly not much change in the last five or six years. I’m certainly not too concerned.”

Mr Roberts said seasonal movements, feeding them bread which is bad for them and even being eaten by cats can all have an effect on the duck population.

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