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It's nesting season at Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset and the lucky swans get five-star treatment – their nests are built for them.
Head Swanherd Dave Wheeler will build up to 150 nests this spring at the world’s only managed colony of wild mute swans.
Every year about 300 swans gather on Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury to nest and lay their eggs. They come in such huge numbers because the conditions are ideal – a plentiful supply of food and a safe haven to raise a family.
The only drawback is that they like to nest on the pebbles next to the water and there are no nesting materials nearby. So for the last 600 years, generations of swanherds have been supplying bundles of reed and shaping them into triangular piles.
Dave Wheeler said:
‘This is an exciting and busy time of year. Building the nests and seeing the adult swans preparing for their young is magical and a definite sign spring is finally here.
‘We use common reed that grows here next to the Fleet lagoon as it gives them a nice deep bed. Once they’ve got the
material, the swans are very nest-proud and they like to titivate what I’ve done and make it really comfy.
‘Each pair nest in the same spot every year, so we know where to build. They can be quite impatient – they watch me
building and often climb onto the reed piles before I’ve finished.’
The swans that return to the swannery year after year mostly mate for life. Female swans start laying eggs from when they are three years old and can go on until they are 20.
Each female or ‘pen’ lays and average of six eggs up to a maximum of 13 (the record for Abbotsbury is 12).
The arrivals are due 35 days after the last egg has been laid in a nest. Hatching starts in mid-May and lasts about six weeks. Visitors can walk safely among the nests while hundreds of baby swans are hatching out on to the paths.
This tremendous spectacle is one of the highlights of the English late spring - the Benedictine monks who founded the Swannery believed that the first cygnet hatching signified the beginning of summer.
The Swannery is open to the public and visitors can see the swans on their nests and take part in the twice-daily mass
For information about when the first cygnet hatches visit the website http://www.abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk