Swan Rescuer


Swan Rescuer

Story is in progress

It's 1978 in the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon. People speed, unrestricted, up and down the river often chasing wildlife. Years of lead angling and lead bullets are dredged by the newly formed Avon Navigation Trust, the river Avon here is toxic.

There are no Swans on the river.

Cyril Benins, who has always loved Swans, sees this and decides to take action. He campaigns for restrictions against speed on the Avon in Stratford, which is successful after heated arguing.

He tries to campaign against lead used in angling. Adverts are put in angling publications with Cyril's phone number attached. One is for a fishing rod worth thousands that Cyril was supposedly selling for a hundred pounds. The other was for a competition.

Before things became worse it so happened that certain sizes of lead wights are banned across England, greatly improving the health of animals and fish.

Two Swans fly in.

These two are named by Cyril 'Tom' after the general manager of the Stratford Hilton Hotel and 'Roxanne' after a woman he had just met that would become his wife. They are very aggressive, no other Swans can get into town.

Tom dies.

Roxanne calms.

More Swans fly in but have nowhere to feed, clean themselves or rest due to erosion of the banks.

Cyril, now manager of the Hilton, gets the staff to walk with feed, bringing the Swans to an area of land beside the hotel which they then had named a wildlife reserve and dug a curving inlet to the river.

Over the next few years more areas of the river are designated wildlife reserves, one 'Willow Island Reserve' even built up by raised money.

⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠“I always had an affinity with Swans, I found them very graceful and challenging. And when I started....one gets very attached to them.”

Cyril Bennis has always been a controversial figure in Stratford. An ex-mayor and manager of the Stratford Hilton Hotel, he one day started looking after the Swans. He now has people all over the town calling him to rescue Swans as he can get there before anyone else because he is always around and on his bike.

I was photographing Cyril when was called by a woman who saw a Swan walking round the RSC warehouse car park on Timothy's Bridge Road. When we got there the swan was dead and on the pavement by the road.
A distressed woman pulled up in a car and told us this: She had seen the Swan on the other side of the road and a "Jeep" coming towards it. She puled over to let the "Jeep or 4X4" around the Swan but the driver kept going and ran the Swan completely over. Her children were in the car and she said her daughter was very distressed by the event. She got out and moved it onto the pavement and went to the police (who came later when we had bagged the Swan up).