Royal Parks in London are urging visitors to stop feeding ducks as it causes bird crowding and intimidation, the Guardian can reveal.
A campaign launched today highlights how overeating disrupts fragile ecosystems, leading to large groups of aggressive gulls and crows stealing the eggs and chicks of other birds. Leftover food also attracts rats, and soggy bread and waterfowl droppings contaminate the water.
The post is part of a new Help Nature Thrive campaign, which is putting up 250 signs around parks to encourage visitors to stop giving food to wildlife of any kind – even if that’s what it is. ‘they eat naturally – due to unforeseen harmful impacts. Royal parks are among the busiest in the country, with 77 million visitors each year, and their numbers are increasing during the pandemic.
“It’s such a difficult thing to tackle because it’s part of a tradition for many of us to go out and feed the birds with your children,” said Peter Lawrence, head of biodiversity at the Royal Parks. “People feed the birds in a good place, but there are unintended consequences. “
Lakes and ponds can only feed a certain number of waterfowl. More food means larger populations, but without additional space, birds are stressed and the risk of disease spreading increases. The number of swans has exploded, with 175 throughout Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens today compared to just 13 in 1990. Only three to four pairs can breed on a body of water the size contained in both parks, which means a few dominant males end up intimidating an entire herd, park officials said.
In a two-hour span on a small stretch of Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park last month, the birds were fed 15 times, and it was a relatively quiet hour of the day, Lawrence said. The population of crows around the lake has increased tenfold since 2004.
“It’s just about the large number of people and the large amount of food that is given to the waterfowl. It’s a bit unprecedented and it really has a whole series of impacts, ”he said.
Waterfowl droppings can also harbor zoonotic diseases, while waterfowl trampling the grass causes bare, muddy ground that takes a long time to recover. Food also prevents wildlife from behaving in natural ways, with birds such as herons now begging for food from humans instead of hunting by ponds.
“In the past it would have been okay to collect eggs and butterflies and now we’re asking people to change their behavior again,” Lawrence said. Signs are erected around the eight royal parks asking people to keep their distance and urging visitors to observe wildlife in its natural habitat.
“Wildlife doesn’t need documents,” the campaign tells visitors, as there is already an abundance of natural food, including aquatic plants, herbs and insects.
As part of the campaign, authorities are reminding visitors that it is illegal to feed deer. Visitors are encouraged to stay at least 50 meters away from them. Plastic litter from food packaging can block their digestive system and there have been cases of animals starving as a result.
Instead of donating food, park conservationists urge visitors to become birding sleuths or hike the wildlife trails. As part of the campaign, photography contests will be held on the parks’ social media pages and other online resources.
Park authorities are planting trees and creating wildflower meadows, reed beds and new ponds for invertebrates and amphibians as part of a 10-year biodiversity framework. This will provide the birds with additional food, giving them a natural, balanced diet that will keep them healthier, according to conservationists.
There are 400,000 records of over 6,000 species in the Royal Parks, including 4,700 species of invertebrates. “It’s about education and not enforcement, we just want to present the information, and we hope that people – when they are armed with all the information – will decide to do one of our other activities at the up, ”Lawrence said.
Environmentalists are divided over whether to feed waterbirds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) encourages people to feed the birds as it helps people connect with the wildlife around them, but warns that too much bread can satiate them without giving them all the vitamins, minerals and important nutrients they need.
A spokesperson for the RSPB said: “So while the bread is not harmful, our advice is to feed the birds only small amounts. As an alternative, we encourage people to use things like sweetcorn, oatmeal porridge, crumbled cookies and thawed frozen peas as well as birdseed.