Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 10:47 UK

New cygnets for bird flu swannery

Swan herder
The swan herders had to rebuild 80 nests after storms

Four cygnets have hatched at a Dorset swannery hit by bird flu and flooding.

The birds, which hatched from a nest of seven eggs, are the earliest to be recorded for more than 600 years - the first batch was expected next month.

It follows 10 wild mute swans and a Canada goose testing positive for the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu at Abbotsbury Swannery since December.

The swannery has since been given the all clear and 80 flooded nests have recently been rebuilt.

After all the doom and gloom that we have been through, it's like a breath of fresh air
John Houston
manager of Abbotsbury Tourism

The swannery, established in 1393 by Benedictine monks, closed for the winter on 28 October last year.

The wild swans, which each lay up to 13 eggs, move from the nine-mile (14.5km) Fleet lagoon, behind Chesil Beach near Portland, to the Abbotsbury reserve in March to breed.

Swan herder David Wheeler said: "This year we have 150 nests, each containing six to eight eggs.

"This means the Swannery pathways and streams will be covered in baby swans from now on."

'Mild winter'

In March, restrictions imposed to combat bird flu in the county were eased by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

John Houston, manager of Abbotsbury Tourism, said: "We have never known them to hatch in April before. This is the very earliest that we can find any record of ever.

"We put it down to the mild winter that we had.

"It's bizarre really. All the nests were washed away in flooding just before they started laying.

"We would have thought the floods in March would have put them off and they would be later.

"After all the doom and gloom that we have been through, it's like a breath of fresh air the cygnets arriving and the first day of summer which the Benedictine Monks believed it heralded."

Storms batter southern England
10 Mar 08 |  England

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