SWANS are being killed and injured by paddle boarders and other watercraft users pushing them down the River Avon.
According to one expert, reports of swans attacking each other have doubled this year due to more people visiting during lockdown.
Swans are ferociously territorial, and if they are pushed out of their own area it can have devastating consequences.
In one incident on the River Avon near the Great Weir, a cygnet was killed after its parents were driven downstream by two groups of paddle boarders.
A cob – a male swan – is also feared to have died after it disappeared. In another incident in Fordingbridge a cygnet was killed and other swans injured.
Cobs can try to kill any other swans which come into their stretch of river during breeding season.
According to an eyewitness, the paddle boarders on the River Avon were “completely ignorant” that they had disturbed the swans.
Posting on Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group’s Facebook page, they said: “That pair and cygnets were forced down onto the next breeding pair and their young, who were likewise pushed down into the territory of the most dominant pair just up from the bypass.
“All hell broke loose as every swan was in the wrong territory. One cygnet killed, one probably fatally wounded and three cobs trying to kill each other.”
In Fordingbridge a pair of swans and their cygnets were disturbed by kayakers.
Posting on social media, Caroline Roylance, who owns the George Inn, said: “Swans are territorial at this time of year, if swans go into other swans’ territory, they attack. We have had paddle boarders push 25 swans down the river. We lost a cygnet, it was killed.”
Mike Meeks, who runs Ringwood-based Wildlife Rescue, said there had been a “huge” increase in swans being disturbed leading to attacks and deaths.
He said: “I have heard about incidents happening all over the place. There is an especially bad problem in Christchurch due to the sheer numbers of swans there.
“There are far more people using the rivers due to the lockdown, and the majority do not understand that if you drive a swan into another one’s territory, it will be attacked.
“Breeding pairs seek out a stretch of water which the cob will patrol constantly. If another swan comes into it, he will attempt to drown it.
“A cob can weigh 15 kilos, he will attack the parents and cygnets.”
Mr Weeks is now calling on river users to take more care: “If you see swans being driven in front of you, stop and wait for them to settle. If you can, get out of the water and go round them.
“Also do not go down in groups, just go in ones or twos.”
Those who see injured swans can contact him on 01425 477500.