Championing the ducks

A duck's lifeA duck's life

Ahead of a guided walk around Jubilee Pond on Wanstead Flats, Duck Champion Project Officer Ute Villavicencio explains her role promoting the wellbeing of local wildfowl and encouraging residents and schoolchildren to learn more about our pond-dwelling neighbours.

The Epping Forest Centenary Trust, soon to become the Epping Forest Heritage Trust, has secured a grant from the City of London Corporation Community Grant scheme, which funds my part-time position as a Duck Champion Project Officer.

Londoners are lucky to be living in one of the greenest cities in the world, with plenty of gardens and parks. And the residents of Redbridge, Newham and Waltham Forest can feel even more privileged to have parts of Epping Forest running through their neighbourhood.

Whether in their local park, garden or Epping Forest, Londoners have plenty of opportunities to engage with wildlife and I'm hoping that through the Duck Champion Project, I can help people discover the natural treasures on their doorstep.

The project focuses on wildfowl and how we can help support their wellbeing. I'm also hoping to increase the understanding of the unique forest pond environments and their inhabitants. Wildfowl is the collective name given to ducks, geese and swans. Some of them are permanent residents, others only stop by on their way to another country and others will pop in for regular visits.

Birds are one of the easiest animal groups to observe and interact with, in particular wildfowl, as they like to hang out in our local ponds and waterways and won't shy off when we approach them with some food. Wildfowl are perfectly adapted to the water environment: webbed feet for swimming fast, waterproof feathers and beaks that can filter food from the water. Did you know that most wildfowl are omnivores? This means, like us, they can eat both plants and animals and they depend on this variety of foods to stay healthy. Most wildfowl will dabble for food, submerging their head and neck into the water, whilst some will dive up to three metres to look for something to eat.

Many of the waterfowl and the ponds of Epping Forest – including Hollow and Eagle Ponds and the ones in Wanstead Park – are currently suffering the consequences of people's good intentions turned bad. Feeding bread to birds has long been a popular practice but, just like for humans, bread is not the best type of food for birds and any bread left uneaten can pollute the ponds and attract unwanted rats. Bread doesn't have much nutritional value but it fills ducks up so they are less likely to forage for foods they would naturally eat, which can lead to malnutrition.

If you're keen to learn more about Epping Forest's wildfowl and what we as individuals can do to help support their wellbeing, do get in touch with me or attend one of our events. We are running free birdwatching walks for adults and families until the beginning of spring. Winter is the most interesting time to observe wildfowl as the UK gets many over-wintering visitors from other countries.

Over Easter and the May half-term, we will run free drop-in events for the whole family, with fun craft activities and quizzes. I'll also be joining some of the local groups' main events, like the Highams Park Spring Festival on 13 May and the Wanstead Park BioBlitz on 24 June.

If you're a local school, you're in for a treat: I am also offering free 30-minute to one-hour educational sessions at schools with an optional free follow-up birdwatching and outdoor games session at your closest Epping Forest pond.

This month, Ute will be leading free guided walks around Highams Park Lake (11 March) and Jubilee Pond (25 March). Booking required. Visit

For more information on the Duck Champion Project, call 07542 335 602 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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