The controlled burn-off at Henley Lake on Thursday. PHOTO/LES ROBINSON

HAYLEY GASTMEIER and CAL ROBERTS

At least one duck has fallen victim to a controlled burn-off at Henley Lake in Masterton on Thursday.

The duck that was burnt in a controlled weed burn-off at Henley Lake. PHOTO/LES ROBINSON

The scorched duck was spotted in shallow waters after the fire was lit on the island at Henley Lake before 3pm.

Masterton District Council was made aware of the controlled burn of pampas grass, a noxious weed, but it was carried out by the Henley Trust.

Les Robinson and his daughter watched the burn-off out of curiosity on Thursday.

As soon as it was lit, all the bird life fled the area, he said.

“Probably a minute later, I saw this thing come flying out of the fire and dive straight into the water.”

He suspected the female mallard had been nesting, based on how long it took for it to fly to safety.

“It was pretty singed up, the poor thing.”

Robinson said it was “a bit sad” that a fire had been lit at a time when many ducks were nesting.

The burn was carried out by the Henley Trust and approved by its chair, Tom Ward.

The fire service was notified prior to the burn and it was started by a Henley Trust Trustee.

Ward said the duck that got caught up in the fire was “one of those unfortunate accidents”.

“Whether it was in amongst the vegetation, whether it flew into the fire, we don’t know.”

The burn-off was part of a rat-control programme on the islands at Henley Lake.

“They’re nesting in those pampas bushes.”

Ward said while the trustee was undertaking the burn, he found several duck nests with eggs that had been eaten by rats.

“That’s the reason we’re trying to get rid of them. We’re also trying to get rid of all the pampas and other noxious weeds and plants over there, so we can plant the islands with natives.”

Ward said the fire was a first on the island and that he had 46 years of controlled burn experience under his belt as a rural fire officer around the country, including South Wairarapa.

He said there were more burns in Henley Lake’s future.

Previously, the trust had attempted to spray the pampas, but were unable to get to all of it.

“We will have to keep on doing more of them, we may involve extra people next time but that was the biggest clump of pampas.”

MDC manager community facilities and activities, Andrea Jackson said the council was looking into the incident.

“We were assured that the person carrying out the controlled burn had investigated the area thoroughly for any birdlife before starting the burn.

“We were also assured that they remained on the island for duration of the burn to ensure it remained under control.

Ward confirmed both statements to be true.

“We will be looking into this further to gain a fuller understanding,” Jackson said.

Shortly after the fire, MDC staff were at Henley Lake, nets in hand, scouring the water’s edge looking for the duck.

An MDC spokesperson said once the duck was located, it would be taken to a special home, arranged by the SPCA.

“This is a deeply regretful incident as it appears a duck has been unintentionally harmed during this weed control exercise carried out by a well-meaning community group.”

Call 06 370 6300 to report injured wildlife at Henley Lake.