I think you would have had to of been living under a rock to of not seen the bin the bread campaigns, bread shaming anyone who attempts to feed wildfowl the carb filled assassin. It’s not good and not reflective of a natural diet for them, apparently. But there has been a recent kickback, from none other than the Queens Swan Keepers themselves (I’m sure they have a more official name than this but let’s roll with it), and swan charities (Much the same as the ones who put out the initial campaign) whose social media posts are going viral. Swans are apparently so underweight they are now beginning to starve to death, and it is thought the turnaround in feeding bread is the root cause.
Whilst the initial campaign argued that swans and the like are perfectly capable of feeding themselves and we should banish the bread, it would seem that things aren’t going as well as they should. Working in marketing myself I must commend the charity, they did an incredible job in spreading this advice to the masses, and the reach of the campaign seems to be incredible, and what a crying shame that is. I’m no environmental expert, but something seems a foot. Whilst I appreciate entirely that in their formation bread would not have been a staple in a swan’s diet, I’m rather sure it wasn’t a staple in our diet either, the last 100 years in which they have been fed it, that may have changed somewhat. What with the summers getting longer and hotter and the winters longer and colder, has feeding themselves and sustaining a healthy weight, naturally become more difficult? Must we appreciate that our coexistence and swan feeding habits has created an element of reliability on us and our carbs?
Of course I appreciate the reasoning, swans are big creatures, and a swan addicted to the carbs is not a good combination. One of my earliest memories is of my little sister being bitten by a swan for holding onto her bag of cubed bread for too long, she cried for what felt like two weeks. Swans can be bargy, hissy little monsters if you let them. I can see how those who are based in popular feeding spots can be even worse, they are persistent, my gosh they will sit outside our boat for hours if they think there is a chance of being fed, and will happily pop their heads through the side hatch if they think you’re taking to long about it. They are characters, and whilst I’m not claiming to be some master wildlife expert I find you do have to be strong against them. The ones that we come across on the canals will quickly learn that should they hiss or get pushy I’ll step back and stop feeding, they can quickly come to respect your person space.
Any regular readers of the blog will know I am swan obsessed, I name them, I love them, and I feed them, and you know what sometimes what I feed them is bread. So shoot me! I try to balance what I give, I have what I call the swan treat box, it sits in the cratch and in it goes the slightly stale bread we won’t use before the next food shop, veggie off cuts and bits and pieces like that. Then whenever I hear that fateful knock on the hatch I know its time to pop out and feed. It isn’t just the swans it’s the ducks too, never the Canadian geese though (Sorry about that but live on a boat and you’ll quickly come to appreciate why).
Do we have to appreciate that even if the feeding of bread is creating a problem, to both the wild fowl and the ecosystem they depend upon, it is a problem that we have created and thus need to find a solution for? Going cold turkey and expecting the animals to understand they must sustain themselves now does not sound like a competent solution to me.
In the UK alone we waste 24 million slices of bread a day, a day! Not in a year that’s one single 24 hour period, and yet because a charity has declared a war on bread there are swans dying. Is bread the answer, I mean who knows but you can find reason to argue the link. It’s such a difficult situation because whilst we have the luxury of being on the waterways, we can see these wonderful creatures all the time, and as such feel so passionate about them. Visiting the parks and duck ponds was one of my favourite things as a child, I remember feeling super excited if there was a swan at the pond, they were special and seeing them was a treat. I remember staying on my grandparent’s narrowboat growing up, I’d eat as little of my cereal in the morning as I could get away with, why? Because whatever I didn’t eat we got to throw over to the waiting ducks and swans. It was such a part of my childhood, and it is a shame to see it lost, but that alone is not a reason to argue it should remain, but there should surely be a solution which is accessible and works.
I understand that you could previously go along to any park in the country in the summer months and see duck and swans receiving a supermarket aisle worth of carbs, but that would tail off in the winter months. It’s easy to look at a snapshot and be alarmed, but I can’t help thinking that we are now seeing the result of limiting this. It’s so easy to see both sides from where I sit.
I don’t feel that a sustainable answer is to expect people to hop online or to their nearest country store to purchase approved swan feed on the off chance it might be sunny on Tuesday and they might take little billy to the park. Nor is expecting people to save up their peelings throughout the week on the same principle. Whilst this is what I do, I live on the waterways, there is a good chance of me seeing wildfowl most days, and I don’t have fancy wheelie bins like most houses, feeding the wildfowl is a way of recycling in my eyes. We have to appreciate for the average home there is already so much pressure in recycling this that and the other, limiting plastic use, keeping ourselves healthy, the left over slices of that weeks loaf was easy, it was to hand, it could be cubed up, put back in the bread bag and walked to the nearest pond, it did not require extra effort. I am not trying to say people are lazy, but when the option that was so easy is branded as bad we need to think of an equally easy option for the better alternative.
You do pass boats on the waterways that will sell their own version of swan feed, perhaps this is something that the CRT could also pick up on. Selling their own version of swan feed in popular tourist areas, helping to bridge funding gaps and keeping food in swan bellies. I don’t know I could see it having legs, or wings. I struggle with anyone who releases big news like bin the bread without any real backup solution or thought of the effect of a sudden ban and whilst a diet of pure bread would be detrimental to anyone let alone just swans, 24 million wasted slices a day is equally as terrifying. Perhaps the popularity of the campaign took them by surprise, perhaps they thought it would take longer to catch on, the change would be more gradual, they would have opportunity for the animals to adapt and an opportunity to release ideas on alternatives.
So there you have it, my garbled thoughts on all this, I’m off now to think about how we solve this, I do feel a compelling need to do something with this. Keeping food in swan bellies tackling that terrifying waste statistic, I must be onto something, surely?
James & Kirsty