Concern for “unhappy swans” at Sovereign Harbour

The swans and cygnets at the Harbour. Picture by Suzy Makai SUS-151106-165805001
The swans and cygnets at the Harbour. Picture by Suzy Makai SUS-151106-165805001
  • Swan family has nested at Sovereign Harbour for years
  • But each year the swans lose their cygnets - and two died last week
  • Resident expressed concern over “unhappy swans” and asked what can be done
  • Wildlife rescuer Trevor Weeks said the swans need to be encouraged to nest elsewhere
  • His advice to the public is to stop feeding the swans

Concern has been raised over “unhappy swans” nesting at Sovereign Harbour, after their cygnets die every year.

Resident Suzy Makai told the Herald, “They have apparently been nesting on the harbour bank for the past six years and repeatedly losing their cygnets every year. “They come back to nest every year and come back because they are fed by the passing public. Every year healthy babies are born but their babies do not survive due to their unsuitable environment.”

Trevor Weeks with swan rescued on Pevensey Levels SUS-151201-085727001

Trevor Weeks with swan rescued on Pevensey Levels SUS-151201-085727001

She said last Saturday two cygnets were found dead in the nest.

“You apparently need to a licence to move them and local charities will not come out to the animals as they will not attend the “healthy” adults or the dead babies in the nest.

“There is a lot of concern for them in the community at the marina and all are concerned for this less than ideal scenario. The locals have had to put carpet in the water as a ramp for them to get out – it is obviously quite distressing for the passers-by and for the birds who continuously lose their young.

“Wouldn’t it be a lovely story to for them to be helped or moved to a better location, with help from all the right people – where they will not be amongst the continuous onslaught of a busy industrial harbour with unsatisfactory water (oil/petrol/diesel) and stress of being in an urban environment and put somewhere where they can thrive and maybe monitored so that they can have a chance to rear their young in an area created for them?

The best way of preventing these incident from occurring would be to discourage the swans from nesting there in the first place.

Trevor Weeks, East Sussex WRAS

“No one seems to be able to do anything – but surely they deserve a happy ending – they do not look happy at all.”

Trevor Weeks, of East Sussex Wildlife and Rescue Service (WRAS), said he would need a license to move the swans as they are protected - but he does not think moving them is the answer.

“Every year we get calls from people concerned about these swans,” he said. “People call concerned about whether the cygnets will survive, will they be taken by predators, concerns over the water quality and boats in the harbour etc.

“To be honest, the swans should be discouraged from nesting there, and all vegetation should be removed. The key reason they want to nest there is because of people feeding them, they do not want to go elsewhere.

“The biggest problem for the cygnets is being able to get out of the water. Young cygnets are not water-proofed, and if they spend too much time in the water they will get water logged and develop hypothermia. They need to be able to get out of the water, either onto a bank or onto mum or dad’s backs to warm up. They can even drown overnight. Even after being helped out of the water if they are too wet hypothermia can set in.

“Ramps into the water which have previously been constructed have causing injury and fatalities as cygnets get caught in the hinge or between the wall and ramp as it moves.

“The best way of preventing these incident from occurring would be to discourage the swans from nesting there in the first place.

“The best way of doing this would be to remove all vegetation from the boat yard area so there is no material available for the swans to use as a nest.

“As with all nesting birds they are protected and in order to touch them we would need a licence, unless they are injured or ill then we are step in as a rescue. If the cygnets are left on the water without access to the parents then we can as a rescue step in, and have previously had to do so.

“I have advised that the current swans and dead cygnets should be left as they are. Swan are well known for grieving and if the cygnets are removed quickly then this will cause more distress to the swans.

“Even moving them now would cause a lot of distress to them as they won’t be able to grieve properly either. Waiting and moving them later to a new location is all well and good but they will just fly back again. Swans are territorial so releasing them on a river, stream or pond somewhere, even if there are no visible swans present can cause a major fight if the site turns out to be a swans territory and the swans were not present at the time of release.

“The swan clearly do not feel too stressed at the Harbour or the swans would not return each year, and would even abandon their young if they really felt threatened. The huge stress of capture is just not justified on this occasion at this site and could even be argued as being illegal and to cause unnecessary suffering and distress to a nesting bird.

“Moving them clearly isn’t the answer. Preventing them from nesting or potentially creating a floating platform like those constructed in Brighton Marina for swans to nest out on the water would be much more beneficial. Although these platforms can take a few years to weather and then become attractive as nesting sites, plus straw would have to be places there for them to use too.”

Premier Marinas has been contacted for a comment.

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