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Posted 1 October 2004
A feature appeared in the Daily Telegraph on June 19, in which writer James Owen accused swans of 'getting in the way of trout fishermen' and blamed them for 'barren, fishless river[s]'. Their crime - according to Owen's piece - is to consume too much ranunculus (aquatic weed).
The article quoted Robin Mulholland, chairman of the Wiltshire Fishery Association, who said: 'we must begin to talk about controlling the populations of certain protected species, otherwise they get out of hand'. Could a cull of swans therefore be on the horizon in order to 'protect' the poor hard-done-by trout fishermen? We must remain alert.
Not long after this alarming article, we came across the tragic story of a swan who had been deliberately shot in the eye with a pellet gun. The wildlife rescuer who tried to save her is 18-year-old Dan Sidley. Dan's tireless work for wildlife has recently won him the IFAW Young Person's Award for Animal Welfare. He has also been nominated for a Pride of Britain Award by The Mirror newspaper. This is his story, emphasising the threat posed to wildlife by fishing and elsewhere:
Saving swans from anglers - Dan's story
When I was 10, I started volunteering at Cotswold Swan and Wild Bird Rescue Centre. Over the next few years I was there at every opportunity. I learnt about the problems wild birds and animals encounter, and how to treat them and release them back into the wild.
I moved to Worcestershire in 2003 and found that there were hardly any wildlife rescuers in the region. So I decided to set up Worcestershire Swan Aid.
So far this year we have dealt with nearly 300 wild animals, most of them victims of man's activities. Fishing accounts for at least 50% of accidents and injuries we encounter. Lead from anglers' weights and gunshot poisons hundreds of waterfowl each year. Swans need bits of stone and grit to grind down their food, and if they also pick up lead from the bottom of the riverbed, it gets released into their blood stream. It will paralyse and eventually kill unless proper treatment is administered. Medication can be given which crystallises the lead and allows it to be flushed from the body. Most birds are saved, but not all. Two months ago I rescued a swan who was tangled up in fishing line. Our vet x-rayed her and found five barbed hooks embedded in her throat. It cost us nearly £100 to have them removed. Fortunately, this swan story had a happy ending - a week later she was released and has since hatched a number of cygnets. We truly believe fishing should be banned because of the damage it causes to other wildlife.
Deliberate cruelty is also on the rise. Recently we were called out to a female swan who had been sitting on her nest when yobs threw five breeze-blocks at her, smashing the eggs and injuring her wing. She survived, but her babies didn't. Only last week we picked up a swan who had been shot in the eye. We tried to save her but she died during surgery to remove the eye and pellet.
Most of our rescues are success stories, though unfortunately a lot of badgers, foxes and deer don't survive because they tend to have been seriously injured in road accidents. The hardest part of the job is to see casualties die.
We cover most of the expenses, such as petrol costs and vet bills, out of our own pockets. We take each day as it comes, and survive on a wing and a prayer. I always manage to find the money from somewhere. It is hard work, but it is really rewarding.
I remember releasing my first swan and watching him take off across the surface of the water. You can't help but feel privileged being able to help. I wouldn't want to do anything else. I'd like to say thank you to all the helpers who make Worcestershire Swan Aid such a success. And to everyone at Cotswold Swan and Wild Bird Rescue for giving me the knowledge and support to carry this through. Oh yes, and to my mum!
For more information, or to make a donation, call Worcestershire Swan Aid on 01905 794189.
For more information on wildlife culls see the wildlife section of our website.