Breeding mallard halts spa revival

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The Independent Online
A pounds 15M MILLENNIUM Commission project to revive Bath's 2,000-year- old tradition of bathing in spa water has been delayed - by a mallard.

Oblivious to the plans, the brown speckled duck, named Beatrice, built her nest beside one of six Roman buildings that are being restored. Now, as she warms her clutch, the project organisers are nervously awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted a licence to remove her six eggs.

Mike Gray, the manager of the Bath Spa Project, said yesterday: "If we left the nest where it is, we would have a minimum of eight ducks - and possibly as many as 20 - swimming around in a closed space with chemicals, heavy plant and engineers monitoring the equipment. The ducks would be in a state of panic."

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, a wild bird's nest cannot be disturbed without a special licence from the Department for the Environment. The Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire has agreed to transport the eggs in an insulated box, hatch them in an incubator and then place the chicks with a foster duck.

Beatrice and her partner, Arthur, have nested in the same place for the past two years. To try to ensure they went elsewhere this year, Mr Gray had strung netting across the top of the 30ft by 30ft Cross Bath. However, someone objected to the interference with the ducks' mating habits and cut the netting at night - three times.

Bath's hot spring pools, which were used by the Romans for worship and healingwere closed 20 years ago.

Preliminary tests to establish whether the water can be made safe for bathing and drinking are due to begin this month. The Millennium Commission has contributed pounds 6.7m to the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2001.