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  • Steve Matthews

What were they thinking?

Should you be in the vicinity of St James’s Park take a walk along Horse Guards Road, enter the park opposite King Charles Street and walk along to Duck Island. At the islands entrance you will see the very quaint bucolic Duck Island Cottage.

Duck Island Cottage

The cottage was built on the island on the site of a former duck decoy, a structure for the capture of wild birds. The link with wildfowl continued with the construction of the cottage, which was used as the club house of the Ornithological Society of London, who were responsible for the husbandry of the all the exotic birds in St James’s Park which had been donated by the Russian Ambassador.

The society had financial resources but seemed to be made up with well meaning amateurs who made a poor job of the task. In 1852 the collection was described as “most shamefully neglected” and it was asserted that the only birds which bred were Carolina Ducks. They were constantly frustrated in their efforts “to maintain an exhibition worthy of the Metropolis“. The birds suffered “seriously from the mischief of children“, and in 1853 four swans were stolen from the island. Fishing parties were also a nuisance and, in the winter of 1854, ice skaters were inflicting ‘Irreparable injury‘ to the birds and shrubs.

The society stumbles on until 1867 when they merged with another society who appear to have been a greater liability than themselves and together they began to share the Society’s club house on Duck Island.

The Acclimatisation Society of the United Kingdom were an august body who thought it would be a good idea helping non-native species adapt to life in the UK, do fluffy nut nibbling rodents ring any bells?

The society had sister organisations in europe, the Americas and Australasia who all followed the same course and the results were catastrophic! They introduced Rabbits and Cane toads to Australia, both are major pests to this day, and to Britain they brought Japanese knotweed and Grey squirrels, enough said.

Had it not been for an epicurean decision made during a society dinner held at the Duck House, Britain’s green and pleasant countryside could be full of Australia’s most populous Marsupial. Steamed Kangaroo was served to society members to help them decide if it was worth introducing kangaroos to England, luckily they decided not to.

#birds #Ducks

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