Waterways and in particular Canals under restoration are in a great position to not just restore our local heritage for the community but to create a natural corridor for wildlife and nature in general to thrive “Biodiversity net gain” is the focus of this page.

WEIGH-HOUSE April 2020 – an article by: SHELAGH HETREED

The Timsbury and Paulton Basins on the Somersetshire Coal Canal are a haven of beauty, peace and tranquillity for the many locals and visitors who walk around them daily in sun, rain, gale winds, ice and snow.

There is always something of interest to see and hear, whether it is the ducks at spring time,
pursuing the perfect partner or the tiny chicks that emerge soon after, zig zagging across the water, completely ignoring their mothers intermittent “quacks”. Often, you can catch a glimpse of the coy Moorhens and Coots as they “beep” in panic, being impossible to approach, as the very sight of a human sends them literally skittering across the surface of the water, as they head for cover. These expert divers can vanish before your very eyes and reappear at a distance, like a game of ‘trick the human’. Also in spring, the pool frogs emerge, their croaking audible from a great distance. If you keep perfectly still, you can glimpse them dancing across the surface, selecting a partner and grabbing them by the waist as though dancing in a frenetic ceilidh. The males literally ‘blow their own trumpets’ as they bellow an orchestra of “burps” from their bubble gum cheeks.

Whenever I approach the basins, I scan the length of the ponds to locate the resident pair of Mute Swans. They are usually side by side, sometimes in or often out of the water, bending their long necks low to sift through the water with their beaks for their staple greenery diet, or grooming their pure white plumage.
However, life on the canal is not always serene and predictable. There appears to be something amiss with our largest majestic residents. For the past 2 years, they have not nested and therefore there have been no cygnets. It is the ongoing topic of conversation amongst the regulars as to why this is; we all have our theories.

One theory is that they are in fact now two males, another that they are siblings from a past brood. Last spring they were joined by a young adult, still sporting the off white plumage of his youth. This shy stranger took residence in the brook and then settled for quite a while in a nearby pond, then took off. Already this year, we have had an adult stranger – followed by another who briefly took over the pond space, while the original pair (or are they?) kept to themselves on the banks. The first pair took flight but returned a few days later, apparently unperturbed by the interloper.

We are all used to seeing the resident swans spending a good deal of their time side by side,
sometimes mirroring each other’s movements, stretching their necks, snorting, loudly flapping their wings and rubbing their necks against each other with what one could believe could be deep affection.

They may turn to face each other and create perfect ‘heart’ silhouettes. They are always impeccably dressed and exquisitely groomed, their dense white plumage reflecting the sun.
It was a cold afternoon last November(2019) when an event took place that caused the other basin occupants to scatter. The swans had a full blown fight! By the time I arrived, they had already drawn blood. They pursued each other from one side of the basin to the other, followed each other in and out of the water several times and continued the assault, pinning each other down, winding their necks around each other and using those strong beaks to great effect on each other’s plumage. It was really vicious and prolonged, with no let up in the voracity of the pursuit.

One swan held the other under the water by their neck for sustained periods. The sheer size of
their wingspans made the flapping and thrashing of the wings on the water very dramatic as they thudded and whooshed through the air. I managed to capture their battles on camera, as they changed location, documenting the writhing shapes that they made as they wrapped themselves around each other, gripped, pecked, broke free and then grabbed each other again, twisting and turning, splashing and thrashing, there was no let up or reprieve for at least 45 minutes.

Returning the next day, not sure as to what I would find, there was just one rather muddy and slightly untidy swan, licking their wounds (or the swan equivalent). The other swan was concealed in the rushes in the newer section towards Radford Farm. It looked for all the world as though the pair were sulking- or taking a safe refuge from each other. I was glad that they only seemed to have ruffled feathers — it could have been so much worse.

Since then, they are usually back to normal, side by side and appear to be good companions.

Does anyone out there know why they behaved like this? Or the reasons that they haven’t mated
and bred for the last two seasons? The Coal Canal has a Facebook Page, it would be great to see a debate – Coal Canal Facebook group.