Nacton Decoy

The following was written by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey in 1886

Orwell Park Decoy: About fifty of sixty years ago a decoy was constructed at Levington heath near Orwell Park, by Sir Robert Harland. It is four acres in extent, and when in full working order had five pipes. The present owner of the estate, Colonel George Tomline, worked it for many years , and then gave up doing so for a time. He states that the largest number of fowl he ever captured in one year was 3,000. In 1853, 2,380 were taken ; in 1854, 2,279 ; in 1855, 1,803 the total number of Ducks secured in eighteen years being 27,991, of which 5,711 were Wigeon. At the present time only one pipe is worked, in which during the season of 1884-85 more than 700 ducks were taken by the end of November. but Colonel Tomline is now constructing a second pipe with the assistance of one of the Skeltons. There are some pinioned Wigeon here which breed freely, and the young birds are quite tame. A curious circumstance is, that although the decoy is within 300 to 400 yards of the Felixstowe Railway, the wildfowl appear to tack no notice of it. In sharp weather there are great numbers of fowl in this decoy, and Colonel Tomline has seen thousands assemble on the ice, and informs me he has lately met with such success that he intends fitting up the disused pipes again.


Lookout Hut to the Decoy Pond           

This Decoy is 5 miles SE. of Ipswich, and a mile from the north bank of the River Orwell, here a wide tidal estuary. It is three-quarters of a mile NE. of Nacton, and notwithstanding the adjacent railway, is admirably positioned as a Decoy.

The following article is from the book: British Duck Decoys of today 1918 By J.Whitaker,F.Z.S.,


Name of Decoy-Orwell Park ( Duck Decoy)

Name of Owner - E.G.Pretyman, M.P.

size of Water- 2 acres.

Average number of Ducks taken- 2.000 in a season

Size of Wood- 30 acres

Is a Dog used ?- Yes


I have to thank Mr. Moorsom, Mr. Pretyman's agent, for the following most interesting account: "The decoy is in a valley surrounded by woods, and is one of a chain of ponds fed by springs forming the bed of a small stream. The Great Eastern Railway Felixstowe branch line runs within about 300 yards of the nearest pipe, but the wood intervenes, and the fowl take no notice of the trains. There are four pipes for the various quarters of the wind. Dogs are used. The decoyman, L. Skelton, has been the decoyman many years, and succeeded his father at this decoy. The family have been decoymen for generations, and come from the Fen. The frontispiece in Sir R. Payne-Gallwey's book on "Duck Decoys" is a portrait of one of his ancestors. Something like 50,000 ducks have been taken during the last thirty-five years, the catches varying from 1,000 to over 3,000 in a season. During the war the catches have been rather over the average, particularly of Wigeon, which seem to remain longer on the East Coast through not being fired at by punt gunners or shore shooters. The main catch is mallard, Wigeon and teal. The last season, 1914 and 1915, almost a thousand of each were taken, but usually a greater proportion of Mallard are caught. A good few pintail are taken each season, and a few Shovellers, and now and again a Gadwall, a Pochard, and a golden-eye and some odd crosses have occasionally turned up. No tufted ducks are ever seen in this decoy, and no sea ducks are caught except an odd Scaup. But for its being necessary to shoot the woods surrounding the decoy twice each winter, the catch would be considerably larger. The ducks are never fired at, but are put away by the decoyman on the morning of the shoot. A large portion of the wild birds, and, therefore, those most likely to be caught, do not return. There is no doubt there is a good lead now to this decoy, and this takes many years to establish. During frosts the ice is broken at night, and in the morning, just before the fowl return, floating food is scattered on the open water. The tame ducks feed on this, and so prevent the ice reforming until the wildfowl arrive, which, under such conditions, they do in thousands. In the winter of 1899 and 1900 over 1,000 were taken in one week of frost. The decoy is always closed on August 1st and opened at the end of March. Catching begins about the third week in September, and goes on till March 1st, but not much is done after January."

ORWELL DECOY, July 18th, 1918.

I stayed the night of the 17th at the White Horse Hotel in Ipswich, an inn known far and wide as one which Mr. Pickwick stayed at, and a more comfortable one I never met with. The 18th broke fine and clear after the terrible thunderstorm of the previous night, and soon after 11am I left the train at Orwell Station and walked through a wood to the decoy about 1 mile or so. I found Skelton busy with some reeds preparing them for the screens, and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk round with him, for he is an artist at decoying, and everything spoke of a master-hand, and it was what one would expect, for he is descended from a line of decoymen, the George Skelton, who was the first man to lessen the decoy pools, being his great-great-grandfather. The Orwell Decoy is by far the most elaborately laid out one in England, everything spick and span. Two ponds lie in a short deep valley, and the second one is the decoy. There are four pipes, very large in arch to the bend, high and wide at the entrances. They are covered with string netting, which Skelton told me lasts, if often dipped and looked after, for thirty years. The longest pipe is 70 yards, 20 feet high at the arch, and 22 feet wide at the mouth. The other pipes are somewhat shorter. They all have a pronounced bend. On the bank above each pipe is a rustic hut, approached up a trench, where through spy-holes the whole performance from start to finish can be clearly seen. Nowhere else have I seen this, and it must be most instructive and interesting to be an observer when a take takes place; from everyone the whole of the decoy pool can be seen, and what a sight it must be to a naturalist when there are, which there often are, several thousand ducks on the water. Skelton told me he had seen 8,000 on at one time, and no one is better able to calculate the number than he is. The screens are 6 feet high, and the running walls at the back are 5 feet 6 inches. The pipes have very strong iron hoops, and have flat iron supports at the sides and top. The pool is 2 acres in extent, so if there are 8,000 ducks on it, it is almost one the square yard. His best single take has been 112, and on one occasion he took 83 and 82 at two takes with only a short time between. Last year was one of his best, and nearly 4,000 ducks were captured. After one of the most delightful hours I ever spent I walked on and saw the Deer Park, which made 179 I have seen in England. I may add there was formerly a teal decoy beyond the decoy, but it is disused now; it looked to me a very good spot, where I have no doubt many of these little ducks could be caught, and it is a pity such a likely place should not be taken advantage of.


                                                                                                                                                        Thomas Gilbert Skelton  

The Decoy Dog

Now we come to the genius who really does the work, the decoyman's dog or 'piper'. This is usually a small, reddish-coloured mongrel. The more he looks like a fox the better. The reason for this is that, since foxes have the unpleasant habit of sneaking up to wild ducks while they are resting or sleeping on the banks and pouncing on them, ducks have an implacable hatred of foxes. The moment a fox shows himself on the banks of a pond, every duck on the water will swim after him, quacking the worst of duck bad language at the top of his voice. Hence the reason why the birds follow the decoy-man's dog when he appears from behind one of the reed-screens, trots along his little towing-path, jumps over his dog-jump, disappears with a flourish of his tail behind the next reed-screen, and then reappears from behind the screen a few yards further up the bank.



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Please note:

Nacton Decoy is Private and not open to the public.  However if you are a school or Natural History Society or any other educational group, viewing can be arranged through the estate manager: Robert Gosling   Tel 01473 659209 or Fax 01473 659002  Alternatively write to:           

Robert Gosling  Home Farm.  Nacton.  Ipswich. Suffolk.  IP10  0EX   

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