THE SWAN population on the Avon in Stratford is thriving – but it was not always the case.
Shakespeare himself may have been referred to as the Swan of Avon by his great friend and fellow playwright Ben Jonson, but visitors to the town in the early 1980s could have been forgiven for wondering why, with only a breeding pair left on the river in the Bard’s home town.
Lead poisoning from weights left by anglers and a shortage of food were both factors in the decimation of the town’s swan population.
Then mayor Cyril Bennis was determined to do something about it and 35 years later there are now some 60 swans on the town stretch of the river.
In 1982, with help, Cyril set up a swan reserve at the back of the Hilton Hotel, now the Crowne Plaza, where resident swans Tom and Roxanne, named after the hotel manager and Cyril’s wife, set up home. The pair were finally able to produce several broods of cygnets and ultimately the swan population increased.
Cyril has continued his work to help the swans, feeding them, educating townspeople, and visiting schools where he encourages children to check the swans are well when passing the river.
The Wychbold Swan Rescue Charity near Droitwich also works closely with the birds which still occasionally fall prey to lead poisoning.
Cyril said: ‘It’s been amazing to see the regeneration of our swan population since the early 80s when only a couple of the beautiful creatures graced Stratford’s waters.
‘’It’s been challenging at times but we’re so pleased to see so many local people and tourists enjoying the sight of the swans.
And a celebration of Stratford swans will be taking to the Avon later this month in the form of a cruise down the river.
Sponsored by Bancroft Cruisers, it will take place on Shakespeare’ birthday on April 23, setting off at 2pm. Tickets are £5 and will go towards the feeding and care of the swans.
Contact Cyril Bennis on 01789 414775 for information and to reserve tickets.