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Here are some top tips on feeding wildfowl and aquatic birds

PUBLISHED: 10:21 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:21 03 August 2018

Oh dear! To a swan this looks a tasty treat (Photo: Paul White, flickr.com)

Oh dear! To a swan this looks a tasty treat (Photo: Paul White, flickr.com)

Paul White, flickr.com

Don’t ‘let them eat cake’ and that takes the biscuit! Our editor discovers she’s been something of a ‘birdbrain’ when it comes to feeding wildfowl

Sometimes you think you’re helping out when you’re really not. When work life kept me in London, lunchtimes would often be spent sitting beside the Thames, with M&S prawn and mayo sandwich crusts chucked to the imperious swans and the ducks darting between the big birds.

Same story while in Windsor, and these days – or at least until recently – it’s been a check for ‘going over’ bread before a trip to the riverbank with my granddaughter, where a queue with flapping wings and open beaks forms as soon as they spot her.

So to learn that we could have been doing much more harm than good over the years comes as something as a shocker. A handful of defrosted frozen peas or some sweetcorn would have been a better choice and not possibly contributed to causing significant problems for the birds on our rivers, canals and lakes.

Rescue charity Swan Lifeline has teamed up with pet food brand WildThings for a new campaign to ‘Ban the Bread’ from rivers, lakes and ponds. It aims to educate the public about the dangers of feeding loaves and crusts to ducks, swans, geese and other waterfowl.

Swan Lifeline trustee Caroline Simpson said: “Feeding aquatic birds such as ducks and swans inappropriate food can cause all sorts of problems, including Angel Wing which makes them incapable of flying. It can be sorted if we can get them when they are very young – the treatment involves splinting the wing. But if we don’t get to them quickly enough the wing has to be amputated.”

The Canal and River Trust, which works to protect the 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, has put its support behind Ban the Bread. “We welcome any campaign that educates the public on the dangers of feeding bread to ducks, swans and other waterfowl, which is a major issue,” a spokesman said. “Lack of nutritional value, encouraging algae growth and attracting vermin to canals and rivers are just some of the problems it creates.

“But ‘Banning the Bread’ doesn’t mean we cannot still enjoy the experience of feeding the ducks. Sweetcorn, lettuce, frozen peas, oats, bird seed and rice are great alternatives.

WildThings, which is manufactured by Pets Choice and is part of its Spike’s World range, has a host of products for wild animals including Swan & Duck Food. As part of the campaign it is working with wildlife centre visitors and school children through leaflets, activity sheets and samples. A website has also been created to offer easy-to-access information.

Tony Raeburn, CEO of Pets Choice, said: “It is understandable that many people are unaware of the harm their trip to the duck pond can do to the wildlife and environment. The aim of Ban the Bread is to give them the right information to make an informed choice and then to pass those lessons on to their kids.”

Further details – including fun quizzes, fact sheets and discount codes for WildThings Swan & Duck Food – are available at spikesworld.co.uk.

Why bread is bad for wildfowl

The traditional family pastime stretches back centuries, but bread – particularly the white processed variety – can lead to major problems for aquatic birds and their environment.

These include:

• The high starch content of bread making muscles grow too quickly, causing a condition called Angel Wing where the wings drop open. This makes birds unable to fly and can even lead to amputation.

• A steady diet of bread stops wildfowl foraging for food and overcrowding increases the amount of droppings in popular feeding areas, damaging the quality of the water and attracting harmful algae.

• Bread sinks to the bottom of rivers and ponds, causing damaging changes to the natural ecosystem.

• It can attract pests such as rats to the riverbank. Rats’ urine transmits Weil’s disease that is potentially dangerous to humans.

• Decomposing bread encourages the growth of a mould called aspergillus that can cause potentially fatal lung problems in birds.

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