It has been six months since the swan nicknamed “Mr. ASBO” and his mate were relocated from their annual nesting site downstream of The Reach to an undisclosed sanctuary 60 miles from Cambridge.
Arrangements were made by Natural England and Royal Swan Marker, David Barber, to secret the pair away, wings clipped to ensure no return. Here is an update:
Mr. ASBO’s sensational behaviour earned coverage on Will Baker and Guy Thomas’ website www.guy-sports.com.
‘A spokesman for Natural England informed us that it was satisfied the swans’ relocation had been successful,’ Baker reports. According to the spokesman, ‘They seem very happy there. It’s very quiet with nothing to disturb them. I don’t think Mr Asbo will be going anywhere.’
Natural England says relocated birds need to be taken at least 50 miles away from their original nesting site to prevent them finding their way back. Wing-clipping is also standard practice but is only a temporary measure. Fresh flying feathers will be gracing Mr. ASBO’s plumage this Autumn (that’s now!)
Unfortunately, River Manager Dr. Phillippa Noon’s report and detailed notes for the Cam Conservators’ July meeting indicate considerable ongoing disruption arising from Mr. ASBO’s extradition from the Cam.
-An ill-researched call (precipitated by local RSPCA officer Chris Nice) has since been made to apply a speed limit to rowers but Noon has explained during a recent interview (www.mixcloud. com) that this would contravene current byelaws ‘which are so written that the speed limit applies to powered craft only.’ (Noon, Health and Safety Notes for 12 July meeting) Noon explains that the speed limit upstream from Baits Bite Lock is set at 8km/ hr (5mph). A racing VIII might reach a maximum speed of 12 mph. The RSPCA had not contacted the Conservancy offices before going to press. ‘Intimidation and harassment against the Conservancy’s limited staff resources and staff welfare issues,’ have resulted from the way this issue was raised, reports Noon.
Three animal rights activists dressed in swan costumes disrupted the May College Bumping Races by obstructing the river with a boat, which halted the event for 45 minutes prior to their arrest. The three offenders are due for trial in November. Criminal proceedings have been issued in respect of byelaw 6.11 – it is an offence to interfere with any boat race. Trenton Oldfield, who disrupted the London Boat Race, was convicted under different legislation (‘public nuisance’). The Conservators are duty bound to prosecute for this offence under their byelaws.
On June 16th, local Class War anti-elitist group protester Ian Bone led around a dozen sympathisers on an hour-long march through town. Forecasting support from up to 4,000 activists, Bone had invited Mr. Oldfield, the swimmer who disrupted this year’s Boat Race, and Cam liveaboard resident campaigner Robin Middleton (Battleship Bob) to join the rally. Beginning at Senate House, the campaigners proceeded through town, but were reported by The Tab Cambridge (Josh Dickins) to have become lost outside Cambridge Union. Bone (writes Dickins) joked that they all failed their Geography A-level. Addressing his group on Midsummer Common, Dickins quotes Bone as saying ‘We could have done better with about 500 or 600 more protesters…At this rate, we’ll seize power in the year 2089.’The protest ended with drinks at the Fort St. George.
Speaking for the group, Bone later said, ‘We are fed up with toffs from Cambridge University thinking they can do what they like – even riding roughshod over nature.’ Referring to Mr. ASBO, he continues ‘For us the swan is heroic and has shown exemplary class consciousness by attacking Cambridge University rowers in the main – although there was some other casualties.’
Son of a butler, Bone recounts on his website how he used to play with Susie More’Oferrall (now Baroness Beaverbrook) as a child. Nowadays, he laments their loss of contact, saying ‘My Christmas cards are not reciprocated.’
Captioning this poignant photo, he writes ‘This is the moment my life was pre-determined. I’m standing in front of one of the mansions my dad worked in as a butler. Just look at my face.
– In her July report, Dr. Noon noted that ‘local liveaboard boaters did not notice the absence of the birds until several days afterwards. The territory was quickly claimed by another breeding pair which had been frightened off by the aggressive male Mr. ASBO.’ In summary, she states that ‘swan relocation ‘fallout’, along with other ongoing challenges to the Conservancy’s administration, has decimated the officer’s spring work programme. A number of 2011/12 Q4 projects remain incomplete.’
Local Animal Communicator Michelle Childerley has claimed she conversed with Mr. ASBO. (Cambridge News, 28 April 2010)
‘It’s about tuning in to the animal with the heart and mind and making a connection with it,’ she said. ‘It’s all about brainwaves and frequencies.’ Ms. Childerley claimed Mr. ASBO told her which college’s crew had hit him with one of their oars.
But River Manager Dr. Phillippa Noon warns against a potential ‘mistake when people project human psychological behaviour onto animals.’ (www.mixcloud.com)
Tim Wass, Chief Superintendent for the RSPCA, also expressed reservations. ‘I don’t think that somebody silently communicating with the swan- from their home- is going to make much difference,’hetoldCENin2010.
Noon explained that Mr. ASBO’s behaviour became abnormal in 2008, with his attacks escalating from 2009. During an interview (www.mixcloud.com) she mentioned several factors, which almost certainly contributed to the escalation of Mr. ASBO’s intolerance and his abusive behaviour reaching a level that could no longer be considered normal and natural for his species. Frequently being fed tidbits, poor diet and excessive human contact, including encouragement to follow a local boat were all cited.
Although Mr. ASBO was initially said to be particularly fond of harassing coxes, his attention was eventually directed towards any size craft, including the Georgina, which was the largest boat passing his nesting site. One critical deciding factor in the decision to relocate Mr. ASBO was his increasing attraction to the froth created by outboard engines, including those on the Conservancy’s patrol boats. Apart from damage his attacks caused to his victims, Mr. ASBO regularly subjected himself to propeller hazard, leading to concerns that he could accidentally end up maimed or with severed legs.
Summing up her interview (www.mixedcloud.com), Dr. Noon spoke about some future potential hotspots, including riverside residential development in Trumpington that may begin to exert pressure on Upper River private owners to restrict river usage if the delicate balance between river users is not respected.
Noon notes that the stretch of Cam that is currently used by rowers is not privately owned. In her role as Clerk and Engineer for Cam Conservators, she calls for increased tolerance and dialogue.
‘I think increasingly in Britain there is less tolerance towards people and people respect each other less. I would like to see a return to those good values where you are more open to other people’s suggestions and will engage proactively instead of being negative. I think there is a tendency for people to be very negative in Britain and it just drags everybody down…the Cam is a fantastic resource but it does need to be managed and in balance.’
Noon calls for each group of river users ‘to understand what limitations there are on the river corridor, to try not to be too greedy of their usage and to try to work with each other.’
Perhaps Mr. ASBO’s greatest good fortune while living on the Cam was not to have been eaten. According to St. Johns College’s Wikipedia entry:
‘Fellows of St John’s College are the only people outside the Royal Family legally allowed to eat unmarketable mute swans. Swan traps were originally built into the walls of the college alongside the river, but these are no longer used. The Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but the Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century, and was extended to the College via ancient Royalist ties.’