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One of the best and most popular family visitor attractions on the Dorset coast is Abbotsbury Swannery. On average, the colony at the unique swannery in Dorset numbers approximately 600 swans – a fascinating sight to behold.
At the beginning of May, the very first cygnets of the year hatch fresh from their eggs – cuddly grey bundles which snuggle down in the warmth and safety of their mother’s feathers. The mute swans perch in their huge nests, the birth of their cygnets witnessed by visitors who are able to walk freely among them without disturbing their peace.
Hundreds of cygnets hatch from more than 100 nests at the Abbotsbury swan sanctuary over a period of six weeks.
About Abbotsbury Swannery
The Dorset swannery was established in the 11th century by Benedictine monks, who farmed the swans for food. Nowadays the swans are very much off the menu, living contentedly in beautiful natural surroundings, under the stewardship of the Ilchester Estates.
This swan sanctuary in Dorset is believed to be the only place in the world where visitors can walk through a colony of mute swans. You can get close-up to their nests and eggs to see the cygnets hatching just metres away. Visitors, particularly children, can also participate in the midday and afternoon feeds. Abbotsbury Tourism, who also runs the Children’s Farm and Subtropical Gardens, is a past winner of the ‘Dorset Echo Industry Award for Best Contribution to Local Tourism’.
The best time to visit Abbotsbury Swannery
The swannery is a year-round attraction but the best time to visit is from May to the end of June, when you can witness the cygnets hatching while walking safely among the nests. This tremendous spectacle is one of the highlights of the English summer and we thoroughly recommend a visit.
The swans lay an egg at two-day intervals (one swan can lay anything from one to 12 eggs) and the incubation does not begin until the clutch is complete. This process ensures that all the eggs in the nest will hatch at the same time, 35 days after the final egg of the clutch has been laid. Towards the final days of the incubation period, the parents and cygnets make contact by calling to each other through the eggshell.
The swan population at Abbotsbury Swannery can double in size during the months of June and July when non-breeding swans from surrounding areas seek sanctuary as they become temporarily flightless due to the annual moult of their flight feathers. In November and December, the population triples when hundreds of other swans arrive to come to feed on the plentiful eelgrass growing further down The Fleet Lagoon.
Highlights of Abbotsbury Swannery
Nothing really prepares you for the spectacle of seeing hundreds of Abbotsbury swans gathering to feed. The elegant creatures form a sea of white as they wait, expectantly, for their food.
The swanherd and his staff feed the swans three times a day - the adults live on wheat and the cygnets initially survive on chick crumb (crushed pellets full of protein) and grass cuttings. Their parents also stir up natural foods such as algae and invertebrates from the bottom of the ponds and pull up vegetation for their young.
Besides watching the swans, the Dorset swannery is a lovely setting for a stroll, meandering your way through bamboo copses to the sound of bubbling streams and admiring sparkling ponds, as well as a host of other bird life, is a more than pleasant way to spend a fine afternoon.
Good to know before visiting Abbotsbury Swannery
- To save money, buy tickets online before your visit to Abbotsbury Swannery, Gardens or Children's Farm – with even more savings if you buy a passport and visit all three attractions.
- Two wheelchairs are available for disabled visitors, free of charge, and all areas can be accessed on flat paths, apart from the telescope platform. Parking for visitors with restricted mobility is available close to the swannery.
- Dogs are not allowed, even assistance dogs, as the swans would get agitated.
- Abbotsbury Swannery has a licensed café which serves homemade lunches, snacks and drinks.
Abbotsbury is a lovely, peaceful location for a holiday, close to some of the Dorset coast’s most beautiful natural attractions, including stunning Chesil Beach. Only a short drive from Weymouth (9 miles), Abbotsbury is a good base for exploring. We have a wonderful range of cottages near the village, here are a few of the closest to Abbotsbury Swannery to get you inspired.