For the second year, Cambridge rowers face an angry swan
A new chapter has been added to the tale of Cambridge's Asbo swan, with a woman claiming to have spoken to it.
Michelle Childerley is an animal communicator who lives close to the stretch of river patrolled by the bird.
"It's about tuning in to the animal with the heart and mind and making a connection with it," she explained.
Michelle claimed the swan told her it was upset about rowers disturbing its nest, but the RSPCA's Tim Wass said its behaviour was perfectly normal.
"Mr Asbo" has become quite a media celebrity since news of the swan's aggressive antics towards rowers on the River Cam first surfaced in April 2009.
As the nesting season gets under way, rowers are once again coming up against the male swan, which patrols a stretch of the river used by around 3,000 rowers in spring and summer.
Michelle Childerley read many of these reports and decided to go down to the river and meet the swan. As an animal communicator, Michelle believed she could get to the bottom of why this particular swan displayed such aggression towards other river-users.
Michelle came to the conclusion that he was behaving just as any swan would - protecting his nest and territory by warding off people who were coming too close.
She said that once back home, she was able to communicate with the swan.
"It's just a different language really," Michelle explained. "Whereas ours is verbal, theirs is silent.
"He was quite upset really," she said. "Swans are very trusting as we all know - very loyal birds - and with various different episodes that had happened to him over the past with his cygnets, he's lost a lot of that trust and he's quite angry really."
Michelle Childerley believes the swan is harbouring unhappy memories
The swan had successfully bred in 2009, but its cygnets were killed. Michelle believes that this event has played a significant role in "Mr Asbo's" continued aggression and anger.
Bill Key, president of the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association, has first-hand experience of "Mr Asbo's" aggressive nature.
He told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that the swan had attacked a number of rowers in different vessels on the Cam and that canoeists have even been known to leave the water and walk with their boats as they are too scared to sail near the swan.
"Our cox has been attacked on many occasions," he said. "He [the swan] takes off and he probably flies up to 200 metres and then dive-bombs the cox."
But Bob Milton, who lives on a barge close to the swan's nest, says it has never given him any trouble.
"He comes to see me every day. He lives about 200 yards up the river from where I live."
Bob feeds the swan daily, and described the bird as "good as gold".
While Bob has avoided the wrath of the badly-behaved bird, it could simply be that this swan is sensible enough not to bite the hand that feeds it.
Michelle, meanwhile, remains convinced that she has communicated with "Mr Asbo" and that his distress is fuelled by memories of run-ins with river-users of the human variety.
She said that he had even told her the name of the Cambridge college whose student rowers had hit it with one of their oars.
Michelle said that although many people don't believe in what she does, she has been put to the test and has been able to prove on television that she can in fact communicate with animals.
As a result she claimed she was able to confirm certain facts told to her by animals, with their owners.
"It's all about brainwaves and frequencies," she said.
Tim Wass, the chief superintendent of the RSPCA, said that although there was some truth in what Michelle had said about the swan's behaviour, he was sceptical about anyone being able to communicate with animals.
"At this time of year, swans are sharing our rivers. They're very much displaying either parental aggression or territorial aggression as a result of the perception that their territory is being encroached upon," he said.
"It's right to say that we have to share the river at this period, during the breeding season, until the time they lose that aggressive tendency again.
"In this particular case it's Mother Nature at her best and at her worst."
He continued: "The swans are doing what they're quite rightly entitled to do - protecting their territory from the threat of anything that would harm the nest.
"But I don't think that somebody silently communicating with the swan - from their home - is going to make much difference."
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