Dorothy Beeson is The Swan Sanctuary's founder and recipient of the British Empire Medal for her unstinting work in swan welfare which started in her back garden in the 1980s. Dot sold her house to help pay for the costs of setting up the present sanctuary on a 3-acre site in Egham, Surrey where she has lived ever since in a caravan with her partner, Steve, over 20 cats and 2 parrots! As mentioned on our home page, the site currently comprises 10 nursing ponds, 4 rehabilitation lakes, an operating theatre, an X-ray room, a washing room for oiled swans, an intensive care ward and an isolation room.
Swans have few natural enemies. Unfortunately there is no shortage of unnatural threats: thousands of swans are attacked, poisoned, shot and injured every year.
One of the most common causes of injury to swans is discarded fish hooks. Swans forage on river beds for their food so a hook and line can easily be swallowed.
Another great danger is power lines, especially where they are near to water. The swans often can't see them and a whole flock crashes. Despite our pleas, the power companies have so far refused to fit plastic discs to the lines to increase visibility, even though this has been successful in other countries.
There is always a problem with vandalism, such as people throwing stones or firing air rifles at the birds. Sometimes the adult swans are killed so that the cygnets can be stolen, but most times the attacks are completely mindless.
But the biggest threat remains pollution, whether industrial or domestic. Oil toxicosis is caused by spillage of petroleum products and is not easy to treat. We're regularly called in to deal with major incidents such as the 1996 Sea Empress oil spillage. At the same time many people don't realise that if, for example, they let engine oil drain into the gutter it will end up in a river. Small spillages like this add up to another Sea Empress every year.
The Swan Sanctuary and its associate centres around the country are on 24-hour alert, 365 days a year. When a 'swan in distress' call comes in the local rescue squad is on its way within minutes. At the scene the rescuers assess the situation and provide 'front-line' emergency treatment. More seriously injured birds are then rushed to the sanctuary for intensive care.
At the sanctuary each injured bird is examined and X-rayed before going into our operating theatre - the only one of its kind in the country - where a full range of anaesthetic, oxygenation and surgical equipment is available.
After initial treatment each patient is transferred to the intensive care ward and its condition closely monitored. Well over 3,000 swans and thousands more waterbirds are currently treated every year.
Once a bird regains fitness it is placed in one of our outdoor rehabilitation pens. Each swan is placed among those from the area closest to its home territory. Finally, after a lot of care, attention and highly nutritious food, the swan is ready for the most satisfying part of the sanctuary's work - the return to its natural habitat.
Sometimes a disabled bird is no longer capable of defending its territory and its young. In these cases we consult our list of 'protected' waters to find the swan a new home where help is on hand. We are always on the look out for suitable new lakes and waterways so, if you feel you can help, please contact us for further information.
After many years on the Egham site we are now looking for new premises such that a far larger swan sanctuary and environmental centre can be developed. It is hoped that the new site will enable us to expand our work and will include a visitor centre and an education unit for schools, universities, conservation groups and industry.