Ducks and swans in Millbrook Lake

Mar 29, 2021 | Community News, Council News

Millbrook Parish Council has received the following correspondence “As we are approaching the duck and swan breeding season, I am sure you are aware of a  number of incidents last year with the male swan attacking and killing baby ducks (especially those of the white ducks whose babies are a bright yellow colour) I am not proposing that the swans should be moved as the lake is their home and it is lovely to see a pair of swans on the lake, but is there any possibility during the breeding season the end of the lake nearest the village could be cordoned off in some way to try to separate the ducks and swans. I am aware both can get out of the water and go around a barrier and I am aware that the swans are not the only threat to the ducklings but it would give some of the ducklings a fighting chance. I have spoken to a number of residents in the village who support this idea and if it is something the parish council would consider than I am happy to look into how to make this feasible, cost effective and safe for all.”

Recommendation from Cllr Bruce Taggart: the suggestion to fence off part of the lake for ducks is not practical mainly due to the monthly draining cycle and the cost and logistics involved.  The best solution in my opinion would be to provide cover around the lake edge where the ducklings can shelter when the Swans become aggressive towards them. This might consist of bundles of branches, 3 -4m in length laid in the water with the branch cut end resting on the bank and the twiggy end providing the cover in the water. Bundles of branches could be placed 10 – 15 m apart at the inflow end of the lake (surgery end) where the ducks are most often attacked. They may need to be roped together with an anchor(rock) to stop them floating away. The ducklings can hide amongst the branches out of reach of the swans.The branches can be of deciduous trees or evergreen but not conifers which are unnatural and would be visually intrusive. It should be noted that this does mean that it is licence for anyone can dump their garden pruning in the Lake. The branches should be placed in such a position as to create a series of bays and suitable material would be collected and placed by a Parish Council appointed contractor.

In the longer term it might be possible to revert the Lake to a freshwater ecosystem. This would require the reversal of the regular summer flushing practice and with a continuous inflow of freshwater the salinity of the water would quickly reduce. It would then be possible to introduce marginal vegetation in the form of reeds and rushes to create a more permanent protective zone around the lake margins.

One concern may be the number of midges that would occur as a result of stopping the flushing. However, given time, an ecological balance would be struck whereby the midge larvae would be consumed by dragonfly nymphs, fish and the ducklings also. This may take two or three years to achieve. A freshwater lake would be beneficial both ecologically and visually, with a diverse marginal flora, marsh marigolds, flag iris, water lilies, etc. Dragonflies and other freshwater invertebrates would become common. With a more varied food web and additional vegetation cover it is likely that freshwater fish will establish and a greater variety of wildfowl may frequent the area and breed, eg Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Gadwall.

The Council welcomes feedback from residents, lake users and other partnership organisations.

12 Comments

  1. Vix

    Can you please elaborate on what banks are not being cut? The lake edges are regularly cut back.

    I live by lake also and yes, whilst midges are irritating, it is for a short period.

    I would be in favour of the ecological benefits to wildlife which also enhances the aesthetics of the village.

    Mr Taggart is an expert in his field and does deserved to be respected for such.

    Reply
  2. Malcolm Powell

    The lake is a mess. The work done on the island was, as I understand, never completed: that work needs to be done and finished with a some small trees( species are available which will survive in either fresh or brackish water and will be ornamental and enhance the appearance of the lake). Long term the lake needs to be scoured to remove much of the silt build-up which comes from field run-off: here the appropriate environmental agency needs to view farming practices which lead to soil loss.
    I agree that long term the current management system is not sustainable: I can see no viable option but a fresh water lake which, properly managed, will greatly enhance the village; suitable plantings in the lake could increase habitat for insects predatory on midges and other annoying insects.
    Suggestions have been put forward for addressing the swan problem, and these should be tried.
    The long term future of the lake needs a well considered plan: it cannot be addressed by a quick-fix solution which in decades to come will bring us back to where we are now.

    Reply
  3. J Davies

    Further update on the ducklings, some were rescued and are being cared for by some residents who witnessed the attack.

    Reply
  4. J Davies

    Just an update on the ducks for those interested, and hopefully to provide some more gravitas that something needs doing to make this a safe place for the ducklings, after being on the nest for 4 weeks the small white duck had seven babies with her yesterday, less than 24 hours later she has none, all have been attacked by the swan – heartbreaking to see and to her her shouting (quacking) for her babies.

    In the last two years this duck has lost all (nearly 30 in total) of her babies. She will be back on the nest within a month are we going to let this happen again?

    Reply
  5. J Davies

    Thank you Claire for your balenced and holistic view. It has been sad to see so many negative comments to Cllr Taggart’s suggestion; what he is suggesting is not a quick overnight fix, it is one that will be implemented gradually, this need not result in the high level of midges as some residents believe (although in general there is to be expected a higher level of small flies due to the warmer climes we currently have, and one only has to take a walk on any coast path to witness this).

    What I do find very upsetting is the general decline of the lake and especially the island over the last few years due to the constant flushing raising the level of silt and salininity in the water making the lake simply a mini version of what you see the other side of the dam, this is highlighted when the lake is emptied. The island was produced with a Heritage Lottery Grant of £50,000. I am unsure if this would be considered a wise investment if they could see the condition of this now. It is far from the haven for wildlife it was intended to be.

    Some of the people who have commented on the original suggestion seem to have missed the point; what I and other residents would like is for the lake to be the crowning glory of the village and not just another manicured village pond, to be somewhere for all to go and enjoy, for it to be an education for younger members of our society and to be a safe haven for all wildlife. At present because of the lack of vegetation this area is not a true representation of this. Are we loosing this as an asset just to apease the few. As a resident who lives by the water I know what I would like to see out of my window and when I go for my daily walk. I truly belive that with consultation with the correct agencies and experts this can be achieved and there is no need for knee jerk reactions or responses bording on bullying.

    To address a few comments made – fresh water does flow into the lake (the definition of freshwater is not salty- nothing to do with the drinking quality!) one resident says the flys have been an issue since 1977, at this time the lake would have been saltwater as the dam was not installed until 1981 to assist with the flooding issues during the 1970’s; if this was the case what are the benefits of flushing and increasing the salinity?

    In the short term it would be good to look at a solution during the 2 to 3 month breeding season to provide the birds on the lake some sort of haven from the threats to their young, including the swan, this could be achieved in a number of ways such as putting in more exit points for the chicks to clear the lake or installing some stategically positioned wooden posts around the edge of the lake near the doctors surgery that the ducks could use for shelter but the swan could not access, or as Cllr Taggart says extra vegetation would also provide cover.

    I hope a suitable solution can be found so our lake is a thriving home for both vegetation and wildlife.

    Reply
  6. E Bennett

    Hi all

    Today I witnessed two more ducklings being murdered.

    As a temporary measure I have inserted a small amount canes around the exit ramps to give the ducklings a chance. Not in water course and hopefully a small defence against the swans actions until hopefully a permanent solution is found.

    Reply
  7. Claire Richards

    I agree totally with Bruce Taggart. We need cover around Millbrook lake for the wildfowl, and personally, I feel that it would also be an advantage to have some vegetation on the island too. Every year we have the same problem with the Swan and the seagulls attacking the ducklings. This is a perfectly natural occurrence, but providing some form of cover ( be it more planting and /or using branches to make bays to shelter young waterfowl from predators) would at least give the birds a chance. I think we would all agree that the midges can be a real problem……but by far the biggest problem is the fact that the lake has no viable eco system, due to constant flushing out the water. This flushing out of the water will never be a long term solution. Therefore, we need to be looking ahead and seek advice from the Environment Agency, Cornwall wildlife trust and the many other bodies that will be willing and able to guide us in the right direction. I feel that the best way forward is for the lake to become a freshwater ecosystem, that would be a lasting legacy for the future residents and wildlife of Millbrook. Last night I watched at least 150 swallows and swifts flying over the lake preying on the clouds of midges. We have over 1,000 bats living around the lake that can be seen hunting for midges and other insects of an evening. Millbrook lake is an important asset and is loved by all of us….it deserves to be cherished rather than left to languish in what is at present a poor management system. I look forward to seeing some healthy debate about the future of our wonderful lake, but feel sad that it has so far attracted negative comments.

    Reply
  8. I Crawford

    Definitely NO to returning lake to Fresh water.

    Reply
  9. J. Pinhey

    I read Cllr Taggart’s comment with a great deal of incredibly! He obviously does not live near the lake and has no idea about the problem with the midges.
    Saying that a fresh water lake would cure the problem eventually is utter rubbish. So we have to put up with not being able to open windows, go in the garden, unable to put washing out and wait for a few years for the problem to away ecologically!, I don’t think so.
    Would the council be willing to wave the council tax in the meantime?
    We never had such a problem when the lake was completely emptied periodically and the banks cut back.
    This is not being done now and the midges have a good environment to thrive.
    Please listen to people who have lived here for a long time and have seen what works and what doesn’t.

    Reply
    • J

      When I was young, there were so many ducks and ducklings on the lake. Something needs to be done about the swan. Taking children to feed the ducks and have them witness the way the swan rages around the lake killing anything he can get his beak around in traumatising. Yes it is nature and yes it does happen, but surly not to the extent of what he is doing. I love the idea of a more natural lake with hiding places dragonflies and stuff it sounds lovely. Having lived here for 30 + years I am used to the flies and come to expect them. So I don’t see it as a problem. They may annoy some people, but the swan annoys me and the other wildlife.

      Reply
  10. colyn thomas

    I am afraid Mr Bruce Taggard is talking without the experience of living with the problem since 1977 when I took the matter up with Mr Ron Hill of South West Water at the time. I live by the lake. The hedges around the lake have not been cut for several years, The midges live in the long grass, trees and plantation around the lake. They are attracted by artificial light. Mr Bruce Taggard must not be allowed to carry out what he requests. The water running into the lake is not fresh water, Would he drink it?.
    I personally met with the Head of the Environment Agency at the time and the results from that meeting and his report was to completely drain the lake and flush it with salt water twice per month from March to October
    The lake now is silting up so the salt water capacity during flushing is much reduced hence the problem getting worse. These proposals from a man unlike me who has not experienced first hand the problem for the past 44 years is what I consider to talking a load of rubbish.
    You can not open your doors or window or go out into the garden, They get in your hair, into your ears, into your ears and throat and clothes and represent a serious health and safety hazard. and has such must be controlled but not the way Mr Taggard proposes. I have taken several photos to to prove my point.

    Reply
  11. Derek Mashford

    This proposal by councillor Taggart should NOT be considered under any circumstances.This would make the fly situation worse. The full draining of the lake helps but in recent times only partial draining is being carried out, the banks around the lake have not been cut for two years. The larvae thrive in lake edges and they should cut back, I speak as a resident who has lived with this problem like my neighbours for fourteen years.

    Reply

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