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Say no to bread for ducks

Ducks in the river

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Thank you for taking the time to scan the QR code and find out why we shouldn’t be throwing bread in rivers and ponds to feed the ducks. We’ve teamed up with the Canoe River Cleaner and his mission is simple, to get the message to as many people as possible to try and eradicate the age-old tradition of feeding bread to ducks and swans.

Why do we say no to bread, and is there an exception?

Bread is bad for ducks and other waterfowl. Their natural diet is things like pond weed, seeds, insects, worms, small water snails and amphibians, and even crustaceans, such as crayfish.

White bread offers little in the way of nutrition. It simply acts as a filler. Whilst it may not seem harmful, the low nutritional value can lead to serious vitamin deficiencies. This is of course in extreme cases, and it is important to remember that this information is not area specific. For example, in a pond where swans and other wildfowl have become used to being fed there can also be serious consequences if we simply stop feeding them, especially in the winter. As a last resort, and if it’s not their main source of food, a bit of bread can be acceptable, particularly brown seeded bread, but certainly not mouldy bread.

In milder months, there is enough natural food to keep birds well fed. That said, many people love to take their children along to our ponds and rivers to feed the birds. Whilst it’s fine to supplement their natural diet, we need to do this wisely.

What to feed the ducks:

  • Rice
  • Lettuce
  • Oats
  • Corn
  • Grapes
  • Earthworms

What not to feed the ducks

  • Bread
  • Donuts
  • Popcorn
  • Crisps


In warm, sunny weather, you might see (or smell) thick, green vegetation growing on the River Freshney, ponds and other watercourses. This is algae and whilst it can be an important habitat for some species, the bloom that occurs can be toxic.

We tend to see this on straighter parts of the river where there is little movement and where the fast-growing reeds act as anchor points. It can very quickly stop the flow, reduce light levels under the water and deplete the dissolved oxygen required by many species to survive.

What can we do to help?

Algal blooms occur naturally, but throwing bread and other foods into the water makes the problem worse. The excessive nutrients effectively feed the algae and cause it to grow more. You can help by not throwing bread into rivers and ponds.

It’s worth noting that what we usually see is not the more harmful blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). However, you can’t tell if an algal bloom in the sea, a lake or river is toxic just by looking at it, so it’s safest to assume it is. Keep pets and children away from the water and avoid skin contact with the water or algae. Report the bloom and other types of pollution in the water to the Environment Agency. Call them on 0800 80 70 60 (24 hour service).

For more information about algae, visit the Environment Agency website.

Check, clean and dry

‘Check, Clean, Dry’ every time we leave a lake, stream or pond, to help stop the spread of invasive plants and animals in our waters. Freshwater, invasive non-native species can ‘hitchhike’ on our equipment, footwear, clothing and boats. If they become established in a new waterbody, can often have devastating effects.

So not throwing bread will help?

Absolutely. Excess bread simply falls to the bottom of the river or pond bed and decomposes, using vital oxygen and increasing nutrients into the water that in turn feed the algae. Furthermore, the droppings of the wildfowl increase, causing slip hazards on paths and banks.

If you are feeding birds, always feed them in the water as it is safer for them and avoids unnecessary contact with humans, and only give them food when they are actively feeding.

The Canoe River Cleaner

It’s never easy, but each year we do our best to sensitively deal with algae blooms on the River Freshney, providing safe passage for the ducks, swans, geese and other wildfowl. This gives the river the chance to breathe providing a healthy habitat for fish and other wildlife that call it home.

The Canoe River Cleaner also periodically donates the correct food to schools in the area to promote good practice. Cleethorpes Wildlife Rescue also run a scheme where you can swap bread for bird seed at some popular feeding spots.

Grimsby-based Haith’s Bird Food are donating bags of suitable bird seed to the Canoe River Cleaner for his nature walks.

For more information about the Canoe River Cleaner, visit Canoe River Cleaner.