Somewhere special: the Slikkebosch duck decoy

This is, and will ever be, a magical place, an oasis of peace, the Slikkebosch duck decoy in the Manteling, on Walcheren. You can easily walk or cycle straight past it tucked away so unassumingly at the edge of the woods. And you’ll never be able to get near, unless you’re with the ranger and their key. Its quiet is also enjoyed by roe and stag deer, its breeding areas by cormorants and hawks.

In the old days, ducks were caught here, for human consumption. The English name, first ‘koye’ and then ‘decoy’, comes from the Dutch for cage (‘de kooi’), and was adopted in American to describe hand-crafted wooden ducks used to lure real ones. No decoy was ever a crock of gold, since they never trapped many. But you could just about make a meagre living out of being a decoy keeper. Nearly all ducks were caught in the autumn, from the northern ducks which flew en masse to the Low Countries. They were attracted down to the ground by steel dummy ducks placed on the water. The cunning and canny keeper would then drive them with a crafted stick into the ingenious tapering ‘pipe’ net. When the duck was ensnared at the narrow end of the pipe, the decoy man throttled it. Whence the Dutch expression to ‘leave the pipe’ meaning ‘to die’.

This particular decoy has five pipes, the usual l design has only four. Now why would that be? Maybe to boost income? Pass. Or because of the natural lie of the land in the mud- and sandbanks when the area was adapted at the end of the 19th century to be a decoy? Pass. What we do know is that this decoy, as one of three in Zeeland, kept going a long time. A good hundred years, in fact. The last ducks to be caught here left the pipe in the mid-1990s. Since then, a kind of hush has come to the decoy.

Every Tuesday, an enthusiastic group of volunteers turns up to keep the decoy spick and span. Not to be operational, but to show visitors what a duck decoy looked like and explain how it worked. So, no, it’s not entirely closed. On half a dozen times in the spring and the summer, excursions are organised, describing its history and its usage, as well as the fauna and flora. If Lady Luck is with you, you might see deer and, in the spring, things can get pretty busy in the cormorant colony. On a warm summer’s day, you can smell them too, when the whole gang is at home: a good couple of hundred have settled here.

Those excursions – an hour and a half long – start at the entrance to the Slikkebosch duck decoy on the Vroonweg in Oostkapelle: 9 April at 14:00, 27 April at 19:00, 20 July at 19:00 and on 3, 17 and 24 August at 19:00. You register ahead, at staatsbosbeheer.

You can also arrange a private excursion for a family group, or of friends or colleagues with forest ranger Karel Leeftink: [email protected] or on 06-10943647.

He’s very knowledgeable about the decoy, having spent quite a few lunch breaks there :-)!

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