Dorset Legend Predicts Early Summer?

Britain could be heading for an early summer, if an old Dorset legend is to be believed.

The first cygnet hatched yesterday morning at Abbotsbury Swannery, nearly two weeks earlier than usual.

According to a 600-year-old legend, the hatching signifies an early summer. And if the swans are right, Britain could be in for a hot May.

The cygnet, Sunny, was born at 7.45am at the swannery located at Chesil Beach. Sadly its father Philip died last week and mother Annabelle has been left on its own to look after three cygnets and four eggs yet to hatch.

"Annabelle is coping really well without her partner Philip because she's such an experienced mother and she looks very happy with her young,'' said head swanherd Dave Wheeler.

"The high temperatures in March encouraged the swans to nest very early. The Met Office said it was the driest March for a century and April 6 had the highest temperature on record."

Staff have put Annabelle her and her young family in a separate enclosure to make sure she feels secure.

Usually the cygnets hatch in the second or third week in May. This year is the second earliest date recorded since the swannery began 600 years ago.

The Benedictine monks who established the swannery believed that the day the first cygnet hatched signalled the first day of summer.

Warm winds from Spain and France pushed temperatures over 20C in many places across the UK during April. The legend also has science on its side as the Met Office predicts mild weather continuing well into May.

Around 1,000 cygnets will hatch over the next six weeks at the swannery which has 900 swans and 150 nests and is the world's only managed colony of wild mute swans.

"This is a lovely time of year down at the swannery. It's wonderful being able to get so close to watch the eggs hatching and the parents rearing their young," said Mr Wheeler.

"The swans usually mate for life and we know every couple at the swannery. It's great seeing the same pairs rearing their new cygnets. Now that one has hatched this usually sets the others off, so there will be loads of little ones soon.

"There are over 100 nests and there are an average of six eggs in each nest so it's a busy time."

The swans return to the swannery year after a year to nest and raise their young.

Female swans, called pens, start laying eggs from when they are three years old and can go on until they are 20.

Each pen lays an average of six eggs up to a maximum of 13. The record for Abbotsbury is 12.