CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Lancashire Life today CLICK HERE

Martin Mere's Lancashire haven for whooper swans

PUBLISHED: 05:16 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 18:17 06 June 2016

Whooper swans

Whooper swans

Wildlife photographer Jason Smalley captures a Lancashire phenomenon in words and pictures

Crossing the flat lands full of winter crops on the approach to the Wildfowl and Wetlands reserve of Martin Mere, the air full of flight and feather, there’s nothing that could prepare the first time visitor for the wild spectacle that lies ahead.

The cacophony of wildfowl calls mingled with the whirr of wings overhead belies little of the treat in store.

Every winter the Mere plays host to a multitude of ducks and geese who arrive in their thousands to seek respite from the biting Arctic winters of their breeding grounds. And among their numbers are the swans. Elegant and blinding in their whiteness, they arrive en masse to feed and fight, providing an unrivalled show.

Superficially these birds may appear similar to our semi-tame mute swans, but by nature they are far wilder - and far from mute! The din can be quite deafening as they challenge for food and mates. From inside the Swan Link hide it’s not uncommon to see more than 1,500 whooper swans jostling for grain during the twice daily feeds provided by wardens of the Trust.

Along with their less numerous cousins, the Bewick’s swans, they arrive at a handful of UK sites during early winter and spend the darker months establishing family bonds and fattening up for the breeding season above the Arctic Circle.

Being very loyal, they return to their old wintering grounds year after year and recently the Trust started a satellite tracking programme to establish the exact route they follow to our shores from their Icelandic homelands. Some individuals have been returning to Martin Mere for over a decade covering the 1,300km in a couple of weeks.

Martin Mere was established as a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve in 1972 and opened to the public three years later by Sir Peter Scott. In addition to the ever popular sanctuary where hundreds of endangered exotic species are kept there’s a huge expanse of natural wetland overlooked by a network of hides from which wildfowl, waders and birds of prey can be observed and studied.

But without a doubt it’s the 3pm swan feed that pulls in the crowds, and rightly so. Out of sight in Europe’s largest bird hide, visitors sit with great anticipation as the swans mill around on the Mere, squabbling like teenagers and displaying to future mates. Eventually a reserve warden appears with a barrow of grain, spreads it just feet from the audience and before he’s hardly had time to turn his back the birds descend and feast noisily.

Among their number will be ducks and pigeons willing to risk a brisk peck for their insolence. This ritual is played out daily until the lengthening hours of daylight draws them back to Iceland to breed.

Global warming is beginning to have an effect as the number of Bewick’s swans needing to migrate has reduced dramatically over the past decade. Most choose to stay all year in their breeding grounds. Could this also happen to our whoopers? We’ll have to wait and see.


More from Out & About


With the West Pennine Moors and the summits of Rivington Pike and Winter Hill right on its doorstp, Bolton has plenty of options for walkers.

Read more

Lytham Hall was the spectacular setting for a glittering weekend of steam engines, tractors, cars and family fun.

Read more

Barrowford is one of Lancashire’s most stylish towns but it also has some quirky tales to tell

Read more

The busy West Lancashire village of Parbold scores highly for natural beauty and community spirit

Read more

The two-and-a-half year initiative to preserve the remains of the copper mines.

Read more
Thursday, November 8, 2018

Books by Lancashire writer Paula Daly are being filmed in the Lakes by the Broadchurch team for a six-part TV drama starring Rochdale’s Anna Friel

Read more
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Fact and fiction merge to create a tale of murder and kidnap in a novel based on Rufford Old Hall by National Trust volunteer Margaret Lambert

Read more

Liverpool has always buzzed, even in its darker days, but today it’s booming, and underpinning the resurgence are institutions with roots deep in the Merseyside soil

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With carpets of damp fallen leaves and rotting deadwood covering woodlands, autumn is the time when fungi of all shapes and sizes thrive. The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Molly Toal explores the mushroom kingdom.

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

An ancient system for training troops in the use of the longbow has been revived in Lancashire

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

John Lenehan grabs his broomstick and takes us on a journey through some of Lancashire’s loveliest countryside.

Read more
Ribble Valley Walks Pendle Hill
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Canicross is one of the fastest growing sports and it has arrived in the Lake District. Irene Rothery reports

Read more
Dogs Lake District Walks

Having 10,000 students on the doorstep is helping this West Lancashire town centre to thrive

Read more

In 1972, a hoard of ancient silver coins was discovered in Prestwich. These days, they’re hoping to strike gold with an unbeatable mix of community, creativity and independent shops but for one craftsperson, silver is still the way to go.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Property Search