Discovery of cygnet with “cleanly broken back” heightens concerns for other missing swans

Photo of Angelo - a cygnet with the 'angel wing' condition.

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

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a long time now, my words failing me, as I’ve no wish to pass on this sad news. As I said to the Bristol Post, “The birds are an iconic part of our town and the affection and concern that everyone has for them personifies the community spirit of Bradley Stoke.” I’m sure more people could name the swans than could name our mayor.

Our ‘week horribilis’ started with a few Facebook messages that only four cygnets (including Angelo) could be found at the lake, so on Monday 4th December we went down and checked and saw that there were indeed only the four. We were a bit concerned, as it was quite early for one to have found themselves a mate and to have left the family group, and although they have been flying more often recently, they usually fly off together before returning to the lake. Although not yet overly concerned, we still contacted PC Jamie Shiels of our local police beat team, who checked the motorway reports to see if any swans had been reported. None had.

On Tuesday some of the swans, Angelo included, were spotted heading up Stoke Brook towards Forty Acres in Stoke Gifford, and by Wednesday I could only find Brooke and one cygnet on the Three Brooks lake. On Thursday 7th December, we saw a post on our Facebook page saying there was a dead swan “under the wooden bridge”. Leaving the Green Gym in the capable hands of David Baker, Andrew Deakin and I headed off and searched the bridges along Stoke Brook and around the lake. I got stuck in knee deep mud trying to get to the island and I may have muttered more than a few words that would make my grandmother blush! We finally made it to the island, but found nothing, although we made sure that the entry points were again accessible before heading back, pausing only to clear some debris by the stone bridge. We then got another message that the “wooden bridge” was not on our reserve, but at Forty Acres, so we headed over there. After some searching, we found the bridge and a dead swan. A quick look at his flight feathers and his ring confirmed that this was our disabled cygnet, Angelo.

Never having had to deal with a dead swan before, we weren’t sure what to do next, and after much Googling and many phone calls to Streetcare, Community Spaces, the Environment Agency and our town council it became clear that no one else did either. We had thought to bury him on the reserve, but as all digging now requires a ‘site survey’ beforehand, and we were unable to contact our SGC rep, as this was the one day he had off sick, we contacted Rowe Veterinary Hospital and asked if they could cremate Angelo for us, which they readily agreed to do. I removed his BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) ring, explained that the poor state of his flight feathers was normal for him, and asked if it would be possible for them to take a quick look to see if they could find a cause of death, as there was a small abrasion in the middle of his back, but nothing obvious. We were devastated to later receive an email saying: “Out vet Chris examined the swan and it appears to have suffered a broken back. Chris said it was a clean break and cannot rule out that this was the result of malicious behaviour.”

After several more calls, we were told to register this as a wildlife crime, which we have done. I’m told that The Queen retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, anyone found guilty of attacking swans can be sentenced to six months in prison and fined £5,000, although since 1998 it is no longer classed as an act of treason.

We’d like to say a huge “thank you” to all of you who have helped, and are still helping us, in our search for the other missing birds; to Rowe Vets for all their help; to the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre vets who will be performing a full post mortem; to Cllr Keith Cranney and Stoke Gifford Parish Council (responsible for Forty Acres) for all their assistance; and to PC Jamie Shiels, who is actively investigating this matter. We have reported his loss to the BTO and cancelled the arrangements we had made for Angelo to be taken to Shepperton Swan Sanctuary later this month, by a licensed swan handler, and also for another swan ringing session.

As I write this, we still have just one cygnet and Brooke, the female adult, at the lake. Three cygnets and Bradley, the adult male, are still missing. I think they are more to us all than just some big white birds out on a pond, they are our big white bird family, whose highs we’ve cheered and whose lows we’ve shared, and I really, really hope that by the time you are reading this our family of swans are back together on their lake, nipping my fingers and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Please report sightings of the missing swan and cygnets to the Three Brooks Conservation Group via their Facebook page, email or phone them on 07497 006676.

• As we went to press it was reported on the group’s Facebook page that another adult swan (not Bradley) had been spotted at the Three Brooks lake.

The Three Brooks swans walking along a path with their five cygnets. [Photo credit: Lee Lawson]

Photos: 1 Angelo, a cygnet with the ‘angel wing’ condition (October 2017).  2 Parents Bradley and Brooke with their five cygnets (May 2017). [Photo credit: Lee Lawson]

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 8 & 9). The magazine is 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.

UPDATE (2nd January 2018)  – Post on the TBNCG Facebook page:

I’m very sad to tell you that on 6th Dec our male swan Bradley was picked up by the RSPCA at the Bristol Harbour, they said he was weak and lethargic. They gave him intravenous fluids as supportive treatment but when after 24 hours he didn’t respond they chose to euthanize him. Angelo we believe died on the 5th Dec and none of the other 3 missing cygnets have been seen since then. Brooke and 1 cygnet are at the lake and are all that remain of our swan family. Sara

See also: Missing swan put down by RSPCA after being found 10 miles from home at Bristol nature reserve (Bristol Post)

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