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28 October 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Nature > Nature Features > Swanning Around

Abbotsbury Swannery

Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery

Swanning Around

Abbotsbury Swannery is one of the county's most popular and unique attractions. Thousands of visitors come to see the flock of tame swans who have lived around the site for 700 years.

Each summer Abbotsbury’s famous Swannery  behind Chesil Beach is awash with cygnets. They're just a couple of months old and their parents are never far off. In 2004, 154 nesting pairs produced families. 

Swanherd at work

Dave Wheeler at work

The 300 other mute swans at Abbotsbury are singletons. And to keep them away from the nesting birds, twice a day they are given a good feed.

The Dorset swans are reknowned for being friendly, having become used to the thousands of visitors who make the Swannery one of the county’s most famous attractions, especially around hatching time in the late spring.

They are looked after by Dave Wheeler who was once a teacher but has been at Abbotsbury  for 22 years and he's now Britain's only remaining swanherd.

 "They’re pussy cats really – even the nesting pairs here are very tolerant, they’re used to visitors – there’s been a long association between swans and people."

There's been a swanherd to look after the Abbotsbury colony since the fourteenth century and the thousands of visitors to the Swannery get a history lesson and live performers to tell the story -  one of the best known characters was Gregory Gill - the swanherd during the 1890s.

Young cygnets at Abbotsbury

Young cygnets at Abbotsbury

Legally, most swans are owned by the Queen. But not the colony here. The swans at Abbotsbury are completely free to come and go although they are all tagged at birth to monitor their movements and health. In the winter many move off a few miles down Chesil Beach  to find more weed to eat. 

Nesting is a dangerous and competitive time and weaker swan families are kept in pens for their own protection. Some are also given young cygnets which have been rejected by their own parents to foster.

"I particularly enjoy the reaction of school children – I don't think feeding swans and seeing cygnets and their parents at such close quarters is something they’d forget.  It’s a magical place", says Dave.

Avian Flu

2008 has been a difficult year for the Swannery - it was hit by an outbreak of Avian Flu in 2008.

Ten wild mute swans and a Canada goose have tested positive for the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu at Abbotsbury Swannery since 10 January.

Staff also had to rebuild 80 nests for the colony of swans, which were washed away in winter storms.

last updated: 18/03/2008 at 12:27
created: 28/09/2004

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