May’s high and lows in the nature reserve

Flooded swans' nest in the Three Brooks Local Nature Reserve, Bradley Stoke.

An update from Sara Messenger of Bradley Stoke’s Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group.

May has been a rollercoaster month of highs and lows for us on the reserve. The highs have included watching the mallard guide her ten tiny ducklings through the weir and onto the lake and the glorious bluebells that are carpeting our woodlands, enjoying, like us, the first warm and sunny days of the year. They are beautiful but fleeting, reminding us that everything, good and bad, shall pass. A timely note, as we’ve had our fair share of bad this month too – we’ve found a dead cat, had orienteering posts and the harrow uprooted, had petrol fires deliberately started on the tump and seen our swans, Bradley and Brooke, visibly distressed whilst trying to save their eggs from the flooding.

Nesting swans

On Tuesday 10th May we received a call from Stephen Horton telling us that the water was almost at the top of the nest. When we met him there an hour later the water had gone down a little, although Bradley was cutting more reeds to strengthen the nest, we cut a few more for him and left. We messaged South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) and asked if they could open the sluice gates for a short time as we were concerned about the height of the water on the lake and that the swans’ nest would flood. Unfortunately, because of the risk of flooding further downstream, they were unable to do so.

On Wednesday morning (11th), following further heavy rain overnight, we received several calls from residents telling us that the flooding had been reported to the Environment Agency and that swans’ nest had flooded. “I’m afraid her eggs have drowned. She is frantically trying to save them but they are underwater.” I called Slimbridge and then the Environment Agency for advice, but they told me it wasn’t their department.

Three of the group dashed down to the lake and we moved the eggs out of the water, shored up the nest and settled the eggs, but within a short time the water had risen again (it was now chest deep) and the eggs were again in the water. We moved the eggs to the side and built it up again, this time making a nest on top of a tyre which was the only way we could keep the eggs out of the cold water. Both swans stayed with us the whole time as we all battled to save the eggs against water that seemed to be rising and falling in equal measures! After we got to the bank, we heard a loud crack as Brooke stood on one of the eggs, breaking it, but she soon settled down on her new nest, tucking her head under her wing to rest. Both birds looked exhausted.

At this point, four members of the SGC drainage team arrived on site to assess the flooding. Looking at a bird sleeping on her nest a foot above the waterline they wondered what the fuss was about, although we did explain that if they had come earlier they would have understood the urgency of the situation! Ironically, the team were unable to assess the state of the weir and the gates as they were all flooded!

By Thursday lunchtime (12th), much of the water had gone, taking with it parts of the nest. We removed the tyre as it had become exposed and now we can only keep our fingers crossed.

Streams and river gods

May’s workday saw us clearing several large blockages in Patchway Brook and several of us taking part in a water vole survey. As we missed out on a survey training day, Fiona Bell, who is on placement at Slimbridge, offered to come down and show us what to look for. As the heavens opened we all agreed that we didn’t need to look far to find the proverbial drowned rat!

We’ve also helped out at Monks Pool in Winterbourne, helping to clear several fallen trees in their brooks, and, amongst the litter under a bridge, Andy found a locked safe! Sadly, he discovered it was empty; not that he was able to crack the code, but he looked through the hole that had helpfully been cut in the back!

We also learned that Sabrina is the goddess of the River Severn in Brythonic mythology. Not to be outdone, we’ve decided that we’re going to have our own deity to protect our brooks and waterways and we have chosen Trolletheus. (You can guess what we’d just pulled out) Well done to ‘Young’ Dave for coming up with that one!

As last year, Rob and Robin led an early morning walk, supporting International Dawn Chorus Day on 1st May. I would give you more details, but I was still tucked up under my duvet!

Photo: Flooded swans’ nest at the Three Brooks lake (photo taken 11th May).

For further information, visit our website (, like us on Facebook (, email or phone 07497 006676.

Stop Press: Two cygnets hatched on Thursday 19th May!

Swan and two cygnets on a nest in the Three Brooks Local Nature Reserve, Bradley Stoke.

Swan and cygnet photos on the BSJ  Facebook page:

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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  1. They seem to have since tumbled over the weir and have been trying to get back up. The adults can manage, the babies can’t. Cyclists, boisterous children and people with dogs can’t seem to resist worrying them. There is no nest and the babies keep warm by climbing onto the parent’s backs. They all readily eat the corn I put out, but may need more/different food. Can someone please help these devoted parents and their babies? I think they are very vulnerable right now.

  2. This is very sad..I think Slimbridge could have least offered some advice over the phone instead of dismissing it!!

  3. @Samantha, This article was written for our June magazine, which went to press shortly after the two cygnets had hatched on 19th May. Follow our Facebook page for the latest updates. Here’s the latest photo of the swans and cygnets (dated 30th May):

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