by Paul Cormacain
THE swans were large, very noticeable, and looked quite dramatic.
They are our largest bird and I always remember being told when young that they are capable of breaking a man's arm with a blow from their wings. This theory has never been proved, nor has it ever been disproved, so I am always very careful when in the vicinity of a swan's nest or an adult swan with young.
There were only a few dozen birds in sight, but I suspect many more were in the vicinity, around corners, in nearby inlets, rivers and pools.
The swan is indigenous in Ireland and Britain. In medieval times some of the local parasites decided they liked to eat swans, and this coloured the history of the swan for centuries.
The local lords of the manor tethered the swans on their land. From time to time a swan would land in the pot, and this would be a cheap meal for the lord. Because they were associated with humans, the swans became half tame, and this characteristic shows through to this day. Books tell us this happened mostly in the south of England, which does not quite explain why the swans in Hillsborough are so approachable.
It has been noted that some swans on islands in the west of Ireland and in Scotland are very shy, and the thinking is that this is the way all the swans used to be.
Yet in the water works in Belfast I can remember catching swans for scientific research, and it was so easy! The birds almost appeared stupid, but of course this could be put down to the effects of centuries of being tethered close to humans, and being surrounded by humans.
The swan is a familiar figure to all. Apart from Hillsborough and the Water works, it can be seen on lakes, ponds, rivers, coastal inlets and estuaries.
In fact, the bird can be seen on almost any area of water, stagnant or slow moving, artificial or natural, in which food can be obtained.
We may think we have plenty of mute swans, and we do. Flocks of 100 birds are the norm frequently, although the flock I encountered had only a few dozen birds. Yet on one historic visit to Sweden by a renowned ornithologist, a huge flock of somewhere between two and three thousand mute swans was seen on one lake.
One of these weeks our local swans will be joined by swans from the far north. From Iceland will come the Whooper swan, while from north Europe, including Russia, will come the Bewick swan.
These will be a welcome addition to our local birds, and will give ornithologists a chance to identify three separate types of swans, instead of just the one. Swans are well represented in the south Down area. About the south Down area I have just received a communication from the Environment and Heritage people, and it seems to me to be of great importance. Everyone should be aware of it, everyone should think about this, should discuss it, and eventually decide what they think is best. Then their views should be communicated to the proper authorities, for after all, it is the people who should decide what is best for the country.
End of lectures, now follows what I hope you will all find to be of interest.
It has been_ proposed we should have a Mournes National Park. Thinking caps on, please. Even without Perch French, the Mournes would still be a special part of the country. The mountains are dramatic, and together with the coastline and farmland form one of the nicer parts of the country. Folk admire the Mournes, visit them, drive through them, talk about them, walk through them, sing about them, cycle through them, and ride horses through them. When you think about it, the Mournes must rank with Killarney and the Giants' Causeway as the places most foreign tourists think about when they talk about the island of Ireland.
The Mournes is a product of the Ice Age, a product of local geography, the soil and the climate, and the folk who live there and visit the place had all had a say in its distinctiveness.
Partly because of this, and partly because they have some fine folk in the Department of the Environment, the Mournes was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty some 18 years ago.
This was done to recognise the distinctive character of the area, to recognise the beauty, and to protect, enhance and promote the area. Quite simply, the area deserves more tourists, more visitors, more protection, more appreciation.
Then in 1997 the Mourne Heritage Trust was established to concentrate even more on the area. In 2002 the Environment folk commissioned a study of the benefits of establishing national parks here, and came up with a number of areas which should be considered for special status.
The Mournes was designated as the best suited for the first national park in the north.
After this, Dermot Nesbitt, who was then in charge of the environment, announced his intention of progressing towards a Mournes National Park.
As you know, politicians are our servants, not our masters, but it was good to see Nesbitt leading from the front, rather than from the rear. I have to say that I have already told Dermot we should follow the lead of our European neighbours, and either ban plastic bags, or else put a tax on them.
He was not in control for long enough to implement that, but when he achieves the lofty heights again I shall have serious words with him.
That is the sort of thing that would enhance the Mournes area, indeed the whole country, and we could export the idea to England!
But perhaps we should concentrate on the idea of the Mournes National Park. I have to say that the idea is growing on me. What about you? When you make up your mind, perhaps you could contact the Environment people, try Brigid O'Neill or Georgina Thurgate on 9025 1477. Many thanks!
Saturday 11th Sunday 12th September - European Heritage Open Days at Moneypenny's Lock and House, details from Oxford Island 3832 2205.
Saturday 18th, Sunday 19th September - Castle Espie is hosting a Green Living Fair for the sixth consecutive year. Call Espie for more details, 9187 4146.
Sunday 26th September - Harvest Home, a celebration of the harvest at Tannaghmore Gardens, 3834 1635
Saturday 16th October - RSPB Members Day at the Greenmount Campus. Talk to the RSPB for more information.