Duck decoy, west of Nyland Hill
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1014452
Date first listed: 22-Dec-1977
Date of most recent amendment: 16-Feb-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Sedgemoor (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 45260 50294
Reasons for Designation
Decoy ponds are artificially created or modified pools of water onto which
wildfowl were lured to be trapped and killed for food and for feathers. They
consist of a central pool off which lead a number of curving arms or ditches,
known as pipes. Nets were constructed over the narrowing ends of these pipes
towards which the birds were lured by the decoyman and his dog. Screens were
erected along the sides of the pipes with carefully placed gaps so that the
dog would be visible to the birds only when his appearance would lead the
birds towards the nets at the ends of the pipes. Once at the ends the nets
would be dropped and the decoyman was able to wring the birds' necks.
The tradition of constructing such ponds appears to have begun in the medieval
period, with the simplest designs indicating an early date. The more familiar
decoy pond, however, is said to have originated in Holland and to have been
introduced into England in the 17th century. The word `decoy' is said to
derive from the Dutch `eendenkooi' meaning `duck cage'. Their greatest
popularity came in the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers were built,
with a small number continuing in use until World War II. The ideal size for a
decoy pond was between 1ha and 5ha with a depth of water of not more than a
metre. The number of pipes varies from one to more than five, often arranged
in symmetrical patterns around the central pool. Although once common features
of lowland England (being particularly associated with the east and south east
coasts), modern drainage has modified or destroyed all but a few examples.
Most examples which survive in a near-complete state of preservation will be
considered of national importance and worthy of protection.
The decoy at Nyland survives as a good example of its class and will contain well preserved, waterlogged deposits, providing evidence of its environment and use, which will complement the extensive documentary records. It lies within the Somerset Levels and Moors, a wetland area of high archaeological value which has seen rapid landscape change over the past 200 years as a result of drainage and intensive peat cutting.
The monument includes the earthwork remains of a six-pipe duck decoy, situated
at the base of Nyland Hill in the Axe River valley, an area of low lying land
which is periodically subject to flooding.
The site is bounded by a sub-rectangular enclosure rhyne (drainage ditch), up
to 2m in depth, and a predominantly blackthorn hedge, surviving mostly on the
inside of the rhyne. The hedge contains occasional larger trees probably
representing remnants of woods around the decoy. Some stone revetting was
noted in the southern enclosure rhyne in 1989.
Aligned ENE/WSW the pool comprises a square depression measuring 98m east-
west by 90m north-south. It is up to 1m in depth, dry or water-filled
dependent on the season. Six pipes or channels lead off the main pool, formed
by earth banks and linear hollows. The three western pipes are the most
complex, separated by earth banks; the central western pipe has an additional
wide channel turning back most of the way towards the main pool. The shallow
pipes vary in width from 2m-5m. The eastern pipe earthworks are lower than
those to the west.
A protrusion from the centre of the north bank has been interpreted as a
landing stage for a decoy-man's boat. The banks surrounding the pool slope
down at a regular low angle. At the eastern end between the pipes are two
shelves or reed ledges for attracting water fowl to the pipe entrances.
The north west corner of the enclosure is the possible site of the water
supply for the decoy pool - the pool door referred to in documentary sources.
A linear hollow runs north west - south east from the entrance of the north
west pipe towards the enclosure rhyne for a distance of 14m. This corner of
the field is the most likely for both supply and outlet, though a small hollow
leading out from the enclosure rhyne on the west, to the old course of the
River Axe, may be associated. The channel of the River Axe is a major
landscape feature, 8m-10m wide, 1m-1.5m deep, and used in part to convey water
to and from the decoy, and possibly away also. A sluice arrangement would
presumably have been in use, but this is not now discernible.
This site was visited by the Rev F L Blathwayte in 1935 and H Savory in 1960.
It is first mentioned in 1668 as being in the possession of the Popham family
of Hunstrete House; it was re-dug in 1762, and is shown on a map of 1773. The
pool was occasionally rented out as some records of catches and expenses are
recorded; it provided income from apples, ice and firewood as well as from
water fowl. The last definite account of the working decoy is in 1813.
A detailed summary of the decoy's history and a ground survey plan was
published in 1989.
Excluded from the scheduling are all modern fences and posts although the
ground beneath all these features is included. The enclosure rhyne, which is
regularly maintained as a water course, is not included in the scheduling.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 27963
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Dennison, E, Russett, V, Duck Decoys, Function & Management with ref to Nyland Decoy, (1989), 141-155
Notebooks, maps, photos re DCPs, Savory, H, Savory Papers, (1960)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing