It’s hard to believe there was a time when there was only a solitary pair of swans in Stratford-upon-Avon. One pair, named Tom and Roxanne, their elegant predecessors wiped off the surface of the Avon by lead poisoning from angling weights and food shortages.
That was 40 years ago, and the then front-of-house manager at the Hilton Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza) decided that wasn’t good enough. After all, swans were synonymous with Stratford back in Shakespeare’s time (the Bard was called the Sweet Swan of Avon) – how could there only be one last hardly-breeding pair?
Cyril Bennis, who went on to become Stratford’s mayor in the 1990s, set to work to change all of that. His efforts have enabled the population of swans in Stratford-upon-Avon to swell once again, with more than 60 birds now swimming into view for what is THE image of Stratford: a swan, on the river, the sun shining, the RSC tower looming in the background.
To love Stratford-upon-Avon is to love the swans that skim across the surface of the Avon. But are we looking after our beloved swans and their bird pals?
Stratfordblog asked Cyril, who runs Stratford-upon-Avon Swan Rescue, about the dos and don’ts of dealing with the town swans and how we can all look out for the welfare of these beautiful, iconic creatures.
5 ways to protect the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon
Feed them the right things
“We’re all becoming wise now to the fact that white bread isn’t great for ducks and swans. But I’m not going to tell people don’t feed them this or that, I don’t believe in that,” says Cyril. “It’s a tradition to come and feed the swans and a little bread in moderation won’t hurt them. The river is good at carrying away the leftovers, so, unlike in a pond or a lake, we’re unlikely to see algae growth due to bread remnants.
“If you are going to feed the swans, brown bread in moderation is fine, lettuce and spinach are even better. Grain is also good for the swans’ gizzards. They don’t need too much. Wildlife has to survive on its own and we must be careful not to change their habits. Overfeed them and they will become dependent on us and won’t survive on their own.”
Make it small
“Tear brown bread, lettuce and any other large food into small pieces. The swans can’t handle half a slice of bread. A little at a time is better for them as swans don’t have great digestion.”
Feed them in the water
“The river is the swans’ home,” Cyril added, “so feed them in the water at all times. It’s preferable for them and it’s also healthier for the town, as rotten food left on the riverbank attracts vermin such as rats and mice.”
Look out for any problems
“The people who live in and visit Stratford-upon-Avon are the eyes and ears of a suffering swan,” Cyril said. “We’re very lucky in Stratford to have such a healthy swan population but there will always be challenges. If you see a bird in trouble, get the tag number – it’s fairly easy to see – and get in touch with Stratford-upon-Avon Swan Rescue. From the tag number we should have a good idea of where the swan will be.”
Keep your dog on a lead
“It’s common sense really, but there have been a number of attacks on swans by loose dogs. It doesn’t matter how well you think your dog is behaved, they are animals and you simply don’t know – sometimes until the worst happens – if a dog can truly behave around a swan.
“The swans need the opportunity to preen on the riverbank but they are slow creatures. They can’t move out of reach of a dog as fast as a duck or a goose. So please, keep your dog on a lead around the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon.”
The future of the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon
“Stratford was a bleak place with no wildlife on the river,” Cyril added. “And now, 40 years later, we take the presence of the swans for granted. But there is a definite change in attitude towards our wildlife and towards the environment and hopefully the next generation is going to be well equipped to take care of the birds in our town.
“Looking after the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon has given me a lot of pleasure over the years; a lot of heartache, a lot of challenges. But the wildlife will work well; we just have to work well with it.”
Check out this video of the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon being fed during the snow in early March:
What do you think? What do you and your family feed to the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon? Post your comment below or join the conversation on social media.
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