On a recent visit to St Peter’s Chapel down on the Bradwell Marshes I was shown the cottage where the professional wildfowler Walter Linnet lived. He was one of many in the Dengie who made a living from shooting, trapping and fishing. The wildfowl shooting was mainly done during the winter months. Several decoy ponds were set up. The ducks would fly in then be chased into nets that narrowed down with no means of escape.
The other method was using a narrow wooden boat known as a punt with a long punt gun laying down the middle of it with a huge barrel. This was packed with charge that blasted out 900 shot. The wildfowlers or marsh men, the as they were known, lay down in the boat using small paddles to get near the poor unsuspecting birds. When they fired, 50-75 birds could be felled with one shot. It wasn’t just ducks that were taken, anything that moved basically.
A man called Harry Handley bagged 432 dunlins. A Mr Fitch shot 75 Widgeon with one shot from a punt gun. A party of 34 punt gunners simultaneously fired into Brent Geese killing 900!!!
The Dengie, at one time, was the main supplier of wildfowl for restaurants in London.
By 1900 most of the decoy ponds were gone mainly due to the depleted numbers of wildfowl. Walter Linnet still managed to father 8 children and if you see the size of the cottage it must have been pretty cramped in there. Ironically, now part of the cottage is used by the Bird Society, who come down to monitor bird numbers and the only shooting is through a camera lens. It would be lovely to have the massive flocks and species there was all those years ago but thankfully we can get enjoyment from just observing them and giving them a safe winter home. – Maisie –