The Abbotsbury Swannery is one of the most popular attractions on the Dorset Jurassic Coast, and although it can’t quite trace its origins back to Jurassic times, the Swannery is at least 650 years old.
History of the Abbotsbury Swannery
The Swannery at Abbotsbury was established by Benedictine monks, who originally founded a monastery here in this idyllic spot on the Dorset coast in the 1040s. Later the Swannery was established, to provide meat for the monks and their guests. In 1543, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Sir Giles Strangways bought the Swannery from Henry VIII and it remains in the ownership of his descendants today. It’s the only managed colony of mute swans in the world.
The Abbotsbury Swannery’s Mute Swans
Mute swans are so-called not because they are mute but because they make a quieter noise than other swans. There are about 800 swans at the Swannery, though the numbers vary with the seasons. About 150 pairs nest there every spring. They nest in colonial fashion, which is unusual for swans as they normally like their own territory. But here on the 8-mile long Fleet Lagoon, which is rich in weeds, conditions are ideal for supporting lots of birds so they learn to tolerate the company of other swans, and of the visiting humans.
The Fleet Lagoon is the body of water created by Chesil Beach, the spectacular 18-mile long shingle bank that stretches along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to many other birds such as coots, moorhens, mallards, the occasional Bewick swan, warblers, owls, cuckoos and much more, with the surrounding unspoilt landscape harbouring foxes, badgers, and roe deer.
Feeding Time at Abbotsbury Swannery
The best times to visit Abbotsbury Swannery are at noon and at 4pm, to see the daily feeding of the swans. This is a spectacular sight, with hundreds of swans crowding around the feeders. Children and adults are also allowed to feed the swans. Feeding the swans is simply to help supplement the natural food of the lagoon, to make it go further in winter.
Harry Potter and the Abbotsbury Swannery
The picturesque and unusual reed beds at the Abbotsbury Swannery feature in the movie Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince.
Adopt a Swan at Abbotsbury Swannery
Most of the swans at Abbotsbury are ringed, which enables staff to monitor their health, find out who they mate with, where they live, how long they live, and other important information. By adopting a swan for £25 a year through their Swanlink scheme, visitors can not only support the vital work of the Swannery but also receive updates on their particular swan’s progress. For details contact Swanlink Co-ordinator, c/o Chesil Beach Centre, Portland Beach Road, Portland, Dorset DT4 9XE.
Other Things to Do Near Abbotsbury Swannery
As well as seeing the Swannery, visitors to Abbotsbury can buy an Abbotsbury Passport which also includes admission to the nearby Abbotsbury Children’s Farm and also the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. This is also part of the Jurassic Coast and along the South-West Coast Path.
Visiting Abbotsbury Swannery
The Swannery is open seven days a week, from late March to late October/early November. To find current opening hours and admission prices for Abbotsbury Swannery, and to discover other things to do in Abbotsbury, visit the website of Abbotsbury Tourism.
Where to Stay for Visiting Abbotsbury Swannery
Middle Cottage in West Knighton is 10 miles east of Abbotsbury as the swan flies, and about 16 miles if driving.