On a remnant of the old Lancaster to Kendal canal, near Crooklands hotel, is a pair of swans who breed every year and are superbly successful parents. Last year they brought six out of six to maturity.
This year they had eight signets which they took for their first swim earlier this week, just at the time I pass by the nest, over the other side of the canal from the tow path, while on the early dog walk.
Today the adults were hanging around a culvert that takes overflow from the canal underneath the M6 near a huge 24-hour garage. The signets were nowhere to be seen.
On inspection I heard a forlorn tweeting and saw one of the signets trapped in the culvert, of the other seven, there was no sign.
I ran to the garage to call the RSPCA who said they would do what they could. As I went back to the culvert I was joined by the garage’s night mechanic Steve.
Together we managed to lift the lid off the culvert and retrieve the one signet which seemed surprisingly well. We lobbed it back to the parents who were predictably furious hissing and flapping at their attempted benefactors.
Steve and I walked round the other side of the M6, where there is another stretch of canal, to see if the signets were being flushed clear through, but there was no sign. So we went back and started delving deep into the water channel. We found one body of a dead signet, but two were just about breathing, although they had collapsed and were like drowned rats.
We got them onto dry ground and Steve gave them mouth-to-mouth by blowing into their beaks. They responded and we tried drying them with tissues.
When we returned them to the canal however they just flopped over onto their backs and head went beneath the surface. They were obviously water-logged and had lost their buoyancy.
So we carried them to the warm of the garage, put them in a box and surrounded them with garage kitchen roll to help them dry off. They improved quickly, started preening themselves, and by the time the RSPCA inspector arrived after two hours from Carlisle, they looked right as rain.
So we took them back to the canal and popped them into the canal opposite the swans’ nest, where rescued signet one was happily nesting with its parents. One of the two was quick to swim over the canal to join the family. The third was still too weak and flopped over, so the RSPCA man and I took it round to the council depot over the canal and put him through the fence as near to the nest as we could.
Last I saw the dad was calling to it to return to the family fold. So, that made three saved out of eight.
I persuaded the RSPCA inspector to try to convince British Waterways that they need to put a guard over the sluice, as apparently ducklings and signets disappear down there every year.
After spending the previous two days in London, it was back to rural Cumbria with a vengeance.