Swan Lifeline is the oldest registered charity devoted entirely to the care of sick and injured swans in the Thames Valley and surrounding area. It was founded in 1986 by a small group of people who had been involved with swan rescue and treatment for many years from a base in Windsor. Charity Registration was completed in 1988.
Initially we worked from private homes, as we sought a suitable centre. In 1992 Eton College offered us the lease of Cuckoo Weir Island free of charge. The following year, after building a treatment centre and outside pens, Swan Lifeline moved in.
Click here to view a map showing Cuckoo Weir Island.
Our work is possible only through generous donations and other support from the general public, our sponsors, trustees and volunteers.
So far, we have rescued and treated more than 30,000 swans.
Co-founder Tim Heron on an early rescue
- We rescue and provide shelter and treatment for sick, neglected and injured swans.
- We educate the public about the incidence and effects of pollution and human activities on swans and other wildfowl on the UK's rivers and waterways.
- We aim to provide a professionally managed treatment centre to continue in perpetuity, not dependent upon any one person or group for its survival.
Removing plastic from a swan's neck
(Joan Shearer was at various times
our treasurer, adminsistrator and a trustee.)
Rescue, Treatment & Release
Our centre on Cuckoo Weir Island, Eton, is one of the biggest and best-equipped in the UK. Examples of rescue include many cases of: swans crash-landing on roads or ice, collisions with power-cables, oil pollution, and scooping cygnets off weirs.
Our site consists of a treatment centre and a series of outdoor recuperation pens with ponds and shelters. We have recently extended our treatment facilities in response to the ever-increasing demands being placed on us, and can now care for up to 200 swans at any one time. In 2007 more than 1000 swans were admitted for treatment.
The centre comprises:
- operating facilities
- treatment room
- decontamination facilities
- intensive-care unit
- specialist cygnet enclosure with indoor pens
Whenever possible, minor injuries to swans, including de-tackling, are handled on-site, as bagging and transporting a swan can cause unnecessary stress. Otherwise the swans are bought back to the centre, where we can offer highly specialised treatment. Life-saving procedures include: pinning broken limbs; removing fishing hooks from the neck/gizzard; removing gunshot pellets; and treating poisoning, etc.
We do not normally offer sanctuary to the swans, preferring instead to return them to their natural wild state. For those swans with long-term injuries and unable to survive in the wild, we find new safe homes usually on private properties with lakes.
To enable us to work as efficiently as possible and to maintain high levels of care, we treat swans only. Other species are referred to other wildlife or specialist groups.
Swan Lifeline is also involved with the protection and conservation of the swans in the UK, and our activities have benefited many other species of waterfowl.
- Lead Poisoning
In 1987, after we had established that lead was killing swans, we successfully worked with Richmond MP Jeremy Hanley to steer a private members' bill through Parliament banning the use of all but the largest and smallest lead weights. When Swan Lifeline began, the life expectancy of Thames swans was less than three years; mute swans do not normally start to breed until they are at least three years old. Our vet at the time Steve Cooke developed a treatment to neutralise lead in the swan's system, thus combating the poisoning. Now, following the removal of lead from the water and the conservation work of ourselves and others, the lifespan of Thames swans has risen to eight years.
- Hook & Line Injuries
We liaise with anglers and angling clubs to minimise these injuries amongst swans and water fowl. Regrettably there are still many unregulated anglers in the region.
We worked with the Regal Swan Group (USA) for a number of years on the causes of pink-feathering. Although the bacteria have now been identified, it is not yet known how this is transmitted to the plumage.
British Trust for Ornithology
The BTO has existed since 1933 as an independent, scientific research trust, investigating the populations, movements and ecology of birds. Swan Lifeline records birds admitted into care and previously unringed birds are ringed before release.
Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology
We have for many years worked with this renowned research team at Oxford University; in the 1990s its Swan Study Group identified many of the problems for mute swans, and published internationally-recognised papers.
Swan Lifeline keeps a special eye on the Windsor Flock, a favourite with tourists.
Education & Training
- We provide training in swan-handling to the Police, Fire and Rescue Services, RSPCA, Highways Agency, and Network Rail.
- Many students come to us as part of their Duke of Edinburgh's Award (under 16s must be accompanied by a parent or guardian), or work-experience course.
- With the Community Service Probation Office, we provide weekend community-service courses, enabling offenders to complete their sentences.
- We give illustrated talks to interested parties. A donation for this is appreciated....
- We attend joint meetings with other conservation groups.
Her Majesty's Swan Marker and Swan Warden
We work closely with Her Majesty's Swan Marker and Her Majesty's Swan Warden, and handle swans under the authority of the former.
Henley Royal Regatta
We have transported and cared for the Henley flock during its temporary removal from the Henley Reach by the Queen's Swan Marker for the Regatta. The swans are given a health check and returned after the event. We have patrolled the course during the event to ensure that swans and geese do not interfere with the racing.
Dorney Lake, Eton
We collected, transported and cared for the Dorney Lake swans during major rowing events such as the World Rowing Championship and the Olympic 2012 games.
We have temporarily removed swans during other regattas and rowing events.
Since 1992 the College has been supporting our work. Also, Eton boys are encouraged to use some of their free time to help us and other local charities.
Proctor & Gamble
Fairy Liquid removes the bacteria which causing pink-feathering in swans. We helped P&G's publicity photo-shoot of Tamarin Stott (English National Ballet) and Henley swan '46C'.
- Brickfields Country Park
- Local councils
- The Police (we assist in prosecuting cruelty cases)
- UK Wildlife Rescue
- The Vintners' Company*
- Wokingham Council Countryside Service
- The Worshipful Company of Dyers*
- Wycombe Wildlife Group
- Other organisations and individuals in the Thames Valley and elsewhere.
* These traditionally share ownership of the Thames swans with H.M. the Queen