Swans Of The Norfolk Broads

Swans on the Norfolk Broads (Cygnus olor) are as familiar to the waterways as are the ruins of watermills that scatter this mystical wetlands.

Although beautiful, composed and elegant, they are fiercely defensive of their young and are aggressive birds.

It is not uncommon to see a swan kill another.

Although It is easy to confuse mating with fighting as both will involve aggressive pecking and apparent drowning.

Were Swans Eaten?

Many will be mistaken in thinking that swans can not be eaten except by the Queen of England.

This is a fallacy, common misconception and is not accurate.

The truth is far more in-depth and involves an English class system rather than a regal right.

Swans were in fact eaten by humans and this practice lasted right up until the 19th century.

Swans Were Farmed In Pits & Enclosed Waterways.

To this day an old tidal swan pit still exists in the city of Norwich. Swans on the Norfolk Broads were not always free but uears ago were harvested and eaten.

It’s purpose was soley for producing swans for slaughter.

Who Ate The Swans?

To prevent the commoner from depleting the swan population, measures were taken to save this privilege for the wealthy and ruling classes.

In 1482, the crown ordered that only landowners of a high income could keep the birds.

A policy was introduced to mark the beaks of swans so that they could be identified for consumption by the wealthy.

Swan Beak MarksThis developed into an intricate system of marking the beaks. To be able to use an official swan mark came only to those who owned the right to do so.

This was an expensive process and it was only afforded by the monarch, wealthy landowners, nobility, universities and cathedrals.

The remaining unmarked swans were then said to belong to the Crown.

This made it impossible for peasants and commoners to kill and eat swans.

Ordinary people were prevented from interacting with swans in any way.

Prison Sentences Were Enforced.

A year in prison would be suffered if any person was to tamper with a swan mark or attempt to counterfeit the beak markings.

Stealing eggs or killing adult birds warranted similar sentences.

This policy lasted until 1998 when eating swans in the United Kingdom became no longer treasonous.

Mute swans are now protected under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act and under this legislation it is is illegal to keep or kill a swan.

Today, ornithologists believe the bird probably is native to the country of England, with archaeological evidence for the presence of swans dating all the way back in time to the late glacial period, some 10,000 years ago.

Photos courtesy of H. Nisbet Copyright 2019 (Instagram hjean84).