A quiet market town famed for its community of monks and a local legend that is said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles is embroiled in its own murder mystery.
Residents of Buckfastleigh, close to Buckfast Abbey on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, Devon, fear they have a poisoner in their midst.
A population of Muscovy ducks living in a popular park in the centre of the town has been hit by an unidentified illness that has killed 17 of the birds, leaving many to suspect foul play.
Tensions in Buckfastleigh, which has a population of just over 3,000, have escalated in recent months over the presence of the ducks in the town’s Orchard Millennium Green.
While many residents and visitors enjoy feeding the animals as they stroll around the park, others feel they are a menace whose droppings are ruining the surroundings.
Now the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are investigating the deaths and experts are conducting an autopsy on one of the bodies in an attempt to get to the bottom of the unexplained deaths.
Andrew Rudgley, chairman of the Orchard Millennium Green Trust which runs the park, said initial tests suggested the ducks may have been the victim of a virus.
But he added: “I can’t honestly say that there are not people here who would like to get rid of them.
“There is a degree of conflict between some members of the community over the ducks.
“We have been told by the RSPCA that it is probably Duck Viral Enteritis but we are still waiting for the final test results.”
Local residents, however, fear there is a more dastardly culprit after months of acrimony over the presence of the animals.
While some claim the animals are a nuisance that create a mess in the park and make them unwilling to bring their children there, others have launched a petition to help keep the ducks in the town, which they say are an important tourist attraction.
Buckfastleigh is a quiet market town that lies beside the Benedictine monastery at Buckfast. A story surrounding the death of Richard Cabel, Lord of the Manor of Brook, west of the town, is rumoured to have been the basis of the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Pam Barrett, who lives near to the green, said: “We’ve looked after many of these ducks since they were hatched and we’re mystified.
“Two weeks ago one of the female ducks was fine in the morning and by that night she had died.
“That was followed by a drake the next day and two days later another.
“We know the illnesses they get and they were dying in a really peculiar fashion we’ve never seen before.
“We’ve tried treating them at the vets and with antibiotics and fluids, but it hasn’t worked.
“It could potentially be a poisoning – naturally occurring or deliberately introduced.
“We had one shot through the neck a couple of weeks ago.
“I was nursing another duck the other day waiting for the RSPCA and I got a huge amount of abuse from some people for being there.”