The derelict decoy overnight shelter at Decoy Heath, Morden Bog, Wareham, Dorset. The building is surrounded on three sides by gulleys of water.
For some time now I’d been wanting to find the old decoy overnight shelter at Morden Bog. I’d seen just one picture of it on the internet (thanks, Dorset Rambler) and then the quest was on!
I knew roughly where the overgrown 1¾ acre former decoy pond and its associated shelter was supposed to be, but hadn’t actually found it until today. For clarification, this decoy is not the same place as the Old Decoy Pond.
What is a decoy pond?
A decoy pond is an artificially created or modified pool of water, and a type of trap where wildfowl were lured to be killed for food and feathers. This particular shelter, or decoy hut, is where the Estate’s decoy man would have stayed to wait for his prey.
The old decoy pond and overnight shelter are on low lying ground within Decoy Heath, and even finding the derelict hut is a bit tricky. Hidden away down a muddy track it is accessed via a small and slippery bridge, and surrounded on three sides by a fairly deep stream. To the south of it is a forest of downy birch trees.
To make things more interesting there are numerous ‘booby trap’ tussocks of grass around the shelter, that are surrounded by channels of water. These mounds are greater tussock sedge (Carex paniculata), and if you get your footing wrong on one of these you could, quite possibly, sprain your ankle. At the very least you’ll probably get a damn good soaking and go home stinking of fetid water if you tread in the wrong place! It is one of the UK’s largest sedges – the tussocks can be over a metre high.
All in all the decoy shelter’s treacherous location makes getting a good photograph rather difficult. Really there is only one angle to take your shot, but that has trees and undergrowth in the way, unless you’re prepared to risk life and limb in the swamp, as I did.
The shelter has iron stone foundations and upper walls of brick. It is just a single room with an entrance to the east, a window to the west and a fireplace and chimney in the south western corner.
The roof has now fallen in, but was probably originally thatched. Trees now grow out of the tumbledown walls, and brambles and ivy are competing to cover the remains. I suspect it won’t be too long before what’s left of the shelter either disappears under a mass of plant life, or falls down completely.
The decoy and associated shelter was constructed in 1724 by the Drax family, of Charborough Estate. It became disused from 1856 due to shooting that was allowed within the surrounding area, which caused too much disturbance for the decoy to carry on.
The decoy was recorded by Daniel Defoe in 1724-26 and Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey in 1886, and is one of only two known surviving examples found in Dorset. The other is at Abbotsbury.
Once upon a time such decoy ponds were common in lowland England, but modern drainage has now changed or destroyed all but a few examples.
Morden Heath decoy is now a scheduled monument
In May 2000 the decoy pond and overnight shelter at Morden Bog, Wareham, was made a scheduled monument, given under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This means it is a “nationally important” archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorised change.
You can read more about scheduled monuments here:
History of the decoy pond and shelter courtesy of Historic England.