WITH their bright plumage and blue beaks, they are an eye-catching delight for birdwatchers.

But the sight of the shy and sleepy ruddy duck could soon become a thing of the past – because they’ve been sentenced to death.

Armed men, acting under orders of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), have been shooting the fowl at a Hampshire beauty spot.

It is part of a £3.3m nationwide “eradication programme” on the verge of rubbing out ruddy ducks in Britain for good – all because they migrate to Spain where they are too randy with another duck species.

Animal rights campaigners have dubbed the Government’s solution as a “fanatical slaughter in an attempt for blood purity”.

Birdwatchers have also condemned the killings.

Simon Layton, who witnessed the shootings at Fishlake Meadow in Romsey, said: “It is disgraceful.

"This is an extermination of a species which is completely wrong.

"There is little evidence to prove it will have any effect on the ducks in Spain.”

The 52-year-old, of Ashdown Way, in Romsey, and his son, Angus, 20, are regular visitors to the haven, home to birds like waxwings and herons and rare mammals like otters.

The ruddy duck, originally from the United States, was brought to the UK in the 1940s. But Spanish experts fear it threatens the existence of its native white-headed duck.

This is because promiscuous male ruddy duck muscles in on female whiteheaded ducks to create a booming hybrid population.

So in 2003 the British Government agreed to eradicate the species.

Figures released by Defra show they are succeeding, with the population diving from 4,400 in five years to fewer than 120 now.

Campaign group Animal Aid has dubbed it “senseless slaughter”.

Director Andrew Tyler said: “It is animal racism.

It is a slaughter in the name of blood purity but hybrids exist throughout nature. It is also logistically impossible to eradicate a whole population spread over 1,000 UK sites and across 20 countries.”

But Defra insists the move is for the greater good.

A spokesman said: “Eradicating the ruddy duck in the UK is supported by European governments and conservation organisations such as the RSPB and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as the best way to conserve the endangered white-headed duck.”

He would only confirm “control work” in Hampshire has been carried out as part of a national programme and would not reveal how many ducks died in Romsey or identify future killing grounds.

RSPB South East backs the duck slaughter here because it will stop extinction of the white-headed duck elsewhere.

A spokesman said: “This position is based on lengthy and careful consideration of the detailed scientific research carried out into this issue.”


• They are stout little ducks with short wings and distinctive stiff tails with faces marked by white cheek patches and a dark cap and blue beaks.

• Males differ from the females, having chestnut body plumage. The female is a darker brown and has a line running through her cheek patch.

• Their tail sticks straight up while swimming and they have the ability to sink into the water without diving.

• They are typically quiet, only making calls during courtship and in fact often spend the day dozing away.

• Ruddy ducks are native to North America and, like white-headed ducks, are a member of the stifftail family.

• They were brought to the UK in the 1930s and 1940s for captive wildfowl collections in Gloucester but some escaped and started breeding in the wild in 1952.

• Ruddy ducks were first seen in Spain in 1983, but ever since they have been breeding with white-headed ducks, producing fertile hybrids which threatens that breed with extinction.