Should we feed swans bread? What do experts from the region say?

Swans feeding in Ipswich Dock

Swans feeding in Ipswich Dock

Queen’s Swan Marker says the trend towards not feeding swans bread has led to underweight birds.

Swans at Thorpeness Mere. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Swans at Thorpeness Mere. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

To feed or not to feed swans bread? That is the debate that has garnered numerous headlines in recent days.

The issue has been brought to the fore after the The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, waded into the controversy, saying he believes a campaign earlier this year called ‘Ban The Bread’, which sought to deter members of the public feeding waterfowl bread and to encourage them to use alternatives, such as sweetcorn, lettuce and rice, has led to birds being underfed.

“While bread may not be the best dietary option for swans compared to their natural food such as river weed, it has become a very important source of energy for them, supplementing their natural diet and helping them to survive the cold winter months when vegetation is very scarce,” said Mr Barber, whose comments were posted on the website of the Swan Sanctuary charity.

He added: “The ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign is already having a deleterious impact upon the swan population; I am receiving reports of underweight cygnets and adult birds, and a number of swans from large flocks have begun to wander into roads in search of food.”

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But a spokesman at the Eastern office of the RSPB, warned that “excessive feeding of foods with low-nutritional value, such as white bread, can lead to vitamin deficiencies and ultimately have adverse effects on the birds.”

“We recommend instead feeding them grains, such as wheat, and vegetable matter, especially lettuce and potatoes, which have a higher nutritional value.”

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At Mistley in Essex, a community famous for its swans which gather on the greensward by the River Stour, founder of the Swan Watch charity, Alex Smith believes some bread for the swans in winter can be “beneficial” and the difference between survival and starvation.

She said: “I don’t have a problem with people feeding some bread in the winter but we wouldn’t feed them only bread. We buy in grain, which is the best thing and feed them once a day.”

Swans on a snowy Sudbury Common Lands

Swans on a snowy Sudbury Common Lands - Credit:

Over in at Thorpness Mere, east Suffolk, where over 100 swans are known to gather in the summer, Ben Tibbenham at the Thorpeness shop and tearooms says they sell bags of barley to feed to the swans.

“They love it - if they see someone with a bag they will swarm all around them,” he said.

“But we also have many young families who come here and feed the swans with bread - people have been feeding them for years.”

In the west of the county, Sudbury’s Common Lands are home to a large herd of mute swans who are looked over in part by the town’s Swan Watch charity.

Mistley Parish Cllr Ian Tucker, Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty's Cathy Smith and Swa

Mistley Parish Cllr Ian Tucker, Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty's Cathy Smith and Swan Watch's Alex Smith surrounded by swans in Mistley.

Member Gregory Bishop said: “Feeding the swans white bread isn’t good for them in quantity as it makes them bloated. If you are going to feed bread - the better the bread, the better it is for the swans, so bread with nuts and seeds on it is preferable. Ideally, you should feed them chopped up romaine lettuce, sweetcorn, frozen peas and chopped up potatoes.

“It’s also important to put the food on the river not on land. Swans have a neck a foot and half long and like to forage for food and take it from the bottom of the river.

He added; “For swans, bread is comfort food - when it is freezing and nature isn’t providing enough food, bread keeps them warm and provides energy.”

Swans at Mistley
Picture: Margaret Brooks

Swans at Mistley Picture: Margaret Brooks

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