The future of Britain’s wildlife is in your hands
The Swan Sanctuary’s response to Pets Choice campaign – Ban the Bread.
In recent years there has been increased talk about how feeding bread is bad for swans and other wildfowl. It is an example of the old adage, “A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth gets it boots on”.
We strongly disagree with the idea that the campaign will improve the health of swans and other waterfowl. In fact, we believe it could actually have a detrimental effect on the waterfowl. The Sanctuary has evidence that when people stop feeding bread, to the birds, they quite often stop completely rather than substitute the bread with an alternative.
We use bread as part of a varied and healthy diet and it is often the first food swans recognise and consume when sick or injured. It is offensive to suggest that we would feed the swans that we devote our lives to rescuing and protecting, with a food source that would make them ill.
When the local BTO ringer, ringed and weighed swans in several flocks, in 2017, on the Thames and on a London Canal, he noticed that the majority of the juvenile swans were underweight. He attributed this to the decline in feeding in these areas. Interestingly, the BTO ringer in our area always uses bread for catching the swans and has no concerns about it being fed.
Life is very difficult for juvenile swans when they first leave their families and they may fly for several miles (often landing in other pairs’ territories) before finding a flock. They use an immense amount of energy making these flights and are often dependent on people supplementing their natural diet, especially in harsh weather conditions.
Our vet has been unable to find any scientific evidence to support the theory that bread is bad for birds. We are keen to have sight of the paper that evidences this. The ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign is not based on scientific research. The email sent to us inviting us to join the campaign is full of factual inaccuracies.
Most worryingly, the campaigners use another swan charity to quote in their argument that they:
‘work very closely with the British Trust for Ornithology and The Royal Veterinary College, and always investigate scientifically when a swan dies in unexplained circumstances. Their findings show that human foods such as bread are the source of many health issues and death.’
This is untrue and not information received from the RVC.
The Swan Sanctuary Vet has been in direct contact with the RVC who confirm they have been carrying out diagnostic postmortems on swans which have died in unclear circumstances, none of which related to the feeding of bread. No research has been done regarding swan mortality associated with human food feeding. The RVC were not happy to have been referenced in such a way.
In our opinion the ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign is flawed and biased. The driving force behind this campaign works for Pets Choice and was quoted as saying ‘looks after’ a brand called Wild Things which manufactures swan and duck pellets. We doubt that many people can afford to replace a 60p loaf of bread with a 1.5kg bag of swan pellets that cost £7.00. However, we would like to stress that in no way are we suggesting that members of the public should not feed swan and duck pellets to the swans. They are a good supplementary feed – as is bread and like all feed products they should be free of contamination such as mould.
Our views and concerns at The Swan Sanctuary are supported by Yorkshire Swan Sanctuary and Swan Support. Please note that more swans pass through the care of these three swan charities than any other rescue centres in the country.
There are references made to bread polluting the water. It is certainly not sensible for members of the public to throw slices of bread on to water if it is not being eaten. However, even in these extreme circumstances, bread is not classed as a significant contributory factor to water pollution. Discarded oil is by far the biggest contributor of pollution on our waterways and educating the public to be vigilant when discarding oil would be far more beneficial to our swans, geese and ducks.
The Swan Sanctuary cares for swans that have become oiled, due to pollution. We also care for swans that have been subject to vandalism – shooting swans are on the increase. Fishing tackle injuries and dog attacks are also common reasons for swans to be admitted into our care. We are yet to admit a swan that has eaten too much bread!
The original initiative to try to stop the public from feeding bread was led by the Canal and River Trust. They used a market research company rather than scientific research. In our opinion, there are far better ways for a charity that is concerned about waterfowl to spend their donations – the obvious choice being pollution which is evident on almost every river and canal.
Bread has been fed, in moderation, for hundreds of years with no evidence of ill effect – it is only a very recent, albeit false, perception that bread is harmful to waterfowl.
Interestingly, if you go to the Canal and River Trust website, there is a short video that has an expert angler explaining how to fish with bread as bait.