One for the wing nuts

Sue Wheat marvels at a huge, ancient swannery in Dorset

Finding the Swannery at Abbotsbury in Dorset was uncannily easy. The AA had put up bright yellow signs directing us to "Baby Swans Hatching" at regular intervals for miles around. Such an official statement seemed bizarre - are we so disconnected from nature that we need signposts to direct us to every detail of rural life? But Abbotsbury Swannery is not a typical place. An outstandingly beautiful nature reserve, it is home to around 800 swans which like it so much that they never leave - unusual behaviour, as swans normally move from place to place.

The birds - known as "mute" swans despite making a variety of strange noises - live on the Fleet, a lagoon by Chesil Beach. The 18-mile beach is, for the eastern nine miles, detached from the shore of the mainland and separated from it by the Fleet - which makes a calm haven of wetlands that supports not just the swans but also a wide variety of other wildlife.

Abbotsbury Swannery is the only colony of managed swans in the world. And if they seem very much at home here, it is because they are. The swans have been on this site at least since the 11th century, when the swannery was managed by Benedictine monks. Now it is managed as part of the Ilchester estate; the swans are the only ones in the country not owned by the Queen.

We walked to the lagoon through a mass of reeds, pampas grass, bamboo, giant fuchsias and other exotic shrubs. As we approached the meadow at the head of the Fleet the scene that opened up to us seemed straight out of a wildlife film set. A mass of sleek, white-feathered bodies covered the lagoon-side, turning it a dappled grey. My two-year-old friend Patrick squealed at his first sight of a swan leading her fluffy grey cygnets. Then we saw the nests - beautifully crafted from reeds - which were scattered all over the meadow leading to the Fleet. Mothers crouched patiently over their eggs; others sat with their newly hatched offspring in the nests, keeping them warm.

Some of the swans had built their nests in secluded spots, but many others had built smack in the middle of the pathways. "It's their choice," said one of the staff, when I asked whether the tourists disturbed them. "They can build their nests wherever they like." Competition for space is fierce, however - around 300 nests are built in a space of two acres. Becoming impervious to prying human eyes may just be a necessary part of swan life.

Such a lack of shyness does mean, however, that for children Abbotsbury is a dreamland. Children and parents can follow "The Ugly Duckling Trail" and learn what life's like as a swan, and visit the Old Tithe Barn - now a children's farm. A subtropical garden gives an extra feeling of exoticism. As we left, we heard the beating of wings and looked up to see six or seven swans swooping above the reed beds, circling the meadow, then returning to skid across the water. It seemed a dramatic sort of swansong for our day out.

The Abbotsbury Swannery (01305 871130) is signposted from Abbotsbury village. Open Mar-Oct 10am-6pm (last admission 5pm). Admission: adults pounds 4.80, senior citizens pounds 3.80, children pounds 2, family ticket (two adults, two children) pounds 11. Next Friday and Saturday swans are ringed, weighed and checked in a "Great Swan Round Up" (details, 1305 760579).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game