Country diary 1949: swans at risk of lead poisoning

Country diary 1949: swans at risk of lead poisoning

PENRITH: Several visitors to the Lake District on Good Friday had the somewhat unusual experience of watching six mute swans flying up the River Eamont towards Ullswater.

As they passed, only a yard or two above the water, their wings made a rushing sound as of waves swishing on a shingly shore.

For the spectators it was a pleasant experience to see the sun scintillating on the feathers of these beautiful birds, but for the swans themselves the journey may have been the prelude to disaster.

For many years past swans from the River Eden and elsewhere have attempted to make their home on the lake; but their brief tenure there has ended in death; for none has been able to survive for more than a few months.

Lead poisoning – in the washings from the lead mines at Glenridding at the head of the lake – has been suspected as the cause of the mortality; and that noted Lakeland ornithologist the late Dr HJ Moon, much concerned over the succession of deaths, sent the internal organs of a dead swan for pathological examination, and traces of lead were found in them.

Seemingly the poison adheres to the vegetation on which the swans largely feed. Recently steps have been taken to eliminate, or at least reduce the poisonous matter entering the beck which discharges into the lake.

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This article by John Harrison was first published by The Guardian on 22 April 2024. Lead Image: A swan beats its wings on the shore of Ullswater in the sunshine near Glenridding in the Lake District. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images.

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