Decoy pond

A decoy pond is an artificially created or modified pool of water, usually square or rectangular in outline, with one or more curving ditches called pipes leading off it. Wildfowl were encouraged onto the pond and then lured up the pipes to be netted. The pond is typically between 30m and 300m across and was constructed by digging out the original land surface to a relatively shallow depth, rarely more than 1m deep. Occasionally natural ponds or lakes were modified for use as a decoy pond.


The tradition of constructing decoy ponds appears to have begun in the medieval period, although these early examples were of simple design. The earliest method of capturing ducks in England was by driving them into tunnel nets at a time when the young birds could not fly and the older ones were moulting. Decoy ponds proper originated in Holland and were introduced into Britain during the 17th century. The name "decoy" comes from the Dutch eendenkooi meaning a duck cage. The high-point of activity was the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers were built. Decoy ponds remained in use until the 20th century, while some examples have been restored and are working at the present time.


The majority of decoys fell out of use during the 20th century, when the growth of duck shooting as a sport became popular. However, there are a number which are still in operation, managed by nature conservation bodies as at, for example, Boarstall (Buckinghamshire), Nacton (Suffolk), and Abbotsbury (Dorset). Other decoy ponds in Buckinghamshire include those at Doddershall House and Upper Winchendon.


Decoys are generally located in the low-lying areas of England, with a bias towards the eastern counties (eg. Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Linconshire). They also exist in large numbers in other wetland areas such as the Somerset Levels as well as coastal areas and parts of the country rich in rivers and streams. They are rare in upland areas and it may be noted that those in Somerset all lie below 15m OD (McDonnell 1984). Decoys were generally built in open countryside, away from habitation.