Locals clash over swans’ safety

Local people have found themselves increasingly at loggerheads over the wellbeing of the much-loved family of swans, currently nesting in the Middleton Park lake – and whether their safety trumps the rights of those wanting to fish there.

As previously reported, the swans first made their home there – on the island in the lake, by the visitors centre – last year; they then returned this spring, this time building a nest for a new family. They are the first nesting family of swans there for over a generation, and have been a star attraction for those recently visiting the park.

However, this year has also seen record numbers of anglers fishing in the pond – often well over 10 at one time. And the past month has seen a growing problem with the swans and especially the six cygnets (the baby swans, now just over a month old) becoming dangerously entangled in fishing line. The lake is also home to moorhens, coots and ducks.

With these incidents happening nearly daily, and sometimes twice daily, the RSPCA and Yorkshire Swan Rescue Hospital (YSRH) have been repeatedly called out – and on other occasions, local people have themselves stepped in to rescue the swans. Others have – alongside the Council’s Parks team – taken to gathering discarded or broken fishing line and hooks from the lake before they cause a problem.

There are now growing calls to better manage angling on the lake, with proposals such as limiting the number of anglers, more licence checks, and creating a designated angling zone in the lake; but the Parks team insist they don’t have the capacity to take on this policing role, and other bodies including the Environment Agency have also seen significant funding cuts in the past decade.

With both the RSPCA and YSRH reportedly saying they are unable to continue coming out, unless substantial steps are taken to address the issue, a widely-shared online petition has now taken off calling for an actual ban on angling there – either temporarily during nesting season, or permanently.

Debating the issue on social media, comments include the following:

“If there were other types of anti-social behaviour happening, the Council wouldn’t be saying ‘Well, we’ll allow it, because there’s no way of policing it'” (Sarah).

“Anyone who’s a genuine angler has no problems with (the idea of a temporary ban): it will be the unlicensed youths that do this and harm the wildlife” (Claire).

“The pond is just far too small for all the fishing taking place: the wildlife have nowhere to go; at the end of the day, the pond is their home” (Danni).

But these proposals and allegations have inevitably caused uproar amongst local anglers. Also on social media, responses have included the following:

“Blown out of proportion; people have been fishing for 100 years there alongside ducks and swans, and this hasn’t happened before to my knowledge” (Simon).

“The park and the lake was left to the local folk; take away the fishing, and what next? The historic cafe, the golf house: all gone. Before you know it, there won’t be a park” (Alan).

“Here we go again: ban this, ban that, let’s put the kids back into the neighbourhoods causing issues. I have fished the place for over 30 years, and have been trying to get this issue resolved for over 2 and a half years now: there’s just been no maintenance. Until this pond is maintained properly, this issue will continue” (Chris).

Cllr Kim Groves (Middleton Park ward) has become involved in trying to resolve the issue, and commented:

“I’m hoping that everyone agrees that the wildlife must have a protected environment – and we all know that change is needed, and this must be done by looking for solutions and working together. We have a choice to manage fishing and wildlife, so are discussing a number of actions to pursue before progressing any temporary ban”.

Those and other proposals now emerging include:

  • the formation of an anglers club to oversee the lake;
  • outreach work with young anglers and schools;
  • dredging and cleaning the lake;
  • and a dedicated phone number to report broken fishing lines in the lake.

To find out more or get involved, contact the local Parks team here.

Swans are a legally protected species – and the same law prohibits them from being moved from their natural habitat in most cases. Seasonable bans on fishing and other leisure activities are regularly put in place across the country, to protect birdlife. Angling is a licensed sport, overseen by the Environment Agency and the Angling Trust.


Photo: One of the cygnets receives surgery after injuring its beak on discarded fishing tackle


15 Replies to “Locals clash over swans’ safety”

  1. This park pond has had very little to no maintainance over the past 5+ years.
    And even though a large group of anglers have raised their concerns not only to the park ranger/caretaker but also local politicians for the past 2 years to no evail.(with screenshot and emails to prove this) … Concerns were raised for the safety and wellbeing not only for the wildlife but also the visiting public…. The anglers have offered to clean out the pond of debris/rubbish/tyres/discarded lines and general waste that has been massing within the pond for years.. But were warned off from the idea due to health and safety concerns… Not only that but when they decided to act again this advice take action themselves and clean up the pond they were met by local law enforcement and told to leave
    Anglers have had a place in middleton Park for over 100years and have taken care to maintain the quality of life to the livestock within the pond and the surrounding area but they can only do so much..
    I will also add that I have been a resident of the local area for 33years and a fisherman for 10+ years and I have never seen the pond fall to the standard that it is today… I think it is hightime that the red tape is cut and some well deserved funding is placed into this gem to restore its former glory before it is too late and is lost forever

    1. Thanks Jon. Here’s hoping, with the spotlight now on the pond, that this much-needed work will now be pushed forward. We’ll keep covering this story – and would welcome further contact with you and others in the angling community. This issue aside, we’re conscious that it’s an immensely popular pastime for a wide range of local people, so would be keen to give it more airtime. Thanks again.

  2. Many of these issues are not caused by thoughtless anglers but, more about the lake being poorly managed. The anglers have been trying to get the weed cleared from the lake for 2 years or more, and I know that the staff from parks and countryside would like that too.
    The problem so far, has been the amount of red-tape that is involved and, the council’s unwillingness to act. The anglers offered to clear the lake of the most obstructive weeds but, were told that they can’t do that because of Health & Safety issues. It’s amazing that the council can provide “policing” to stop the anglers from maintaining the area but, cannot provide the manpower to maintain it.

    1. Thanks Craig, fair points there. Maybe some good can come out of the spotlight now being shone on the pond, and its poor state, and some proper maintenance can take place – here’s hoping. Best wishes.

      1. Thanks Ed. There are a few of us that are hoping to be involved in the forthcoming discussions. Just maybe, we can help to set the agenda on a fair and even footing. It’s just a shame that wildlife was injured before anyone was willing to take action.

  3. Not a single mention of how much the angling community do to maintain the pond, no mention of local anglers saving a child that fell in because of it being poorly maintained, no mention about how the pond has been overlooked for years except by anglers, but now there’s some fluffy wildlife people are suddenly interested.

    1. Hi Lee, thanks for your comment. Frankly, there’s lots not in this article. But it’s already too long, and there’s a limit to how many angles you can squeeze into a single article – which is after all about the swans. On maintenance, we did include Chris’ quote – which suggests that he has been calling for maintenance, but to no avail. So you might disagree, but I don’t think it blames the angling community. I’m sorry though if you disagree; but as I said to Chris below, we’d welcome future articles on angling, there or generally. Best wishes, stay in touch if you wish.

      1. Hi Ed,
        I appreciate what your saying but this whole debate is starting to feel like a witch hunt against anglers that use miggy park, the people that fish the lake are, for the majority, local lads and lasses, they probably spend more time in the park than anyone else, at all times of the year, in all weather, not just sunny days when there’s cute cygnets swimming about.
        The vast majority spend a lot of time cleaning up after other folk because the last thing we want is to sit for hours on end amongst all the rubbish that gets left by visitors or to see any harm come to the wildlife we’re lucky to have on our doorstep.
        Come down to the park sometime, come talk to us, come watch us, the picture that’s being painted is very skewed compared to the reality.
        If the lake is in poor condition then surely it’s down to the local authority not prioritising it’s upkeep?
        This has been raised countless times, for years by the angling community and it’s constantly falling on deaf ears.

  4. Total one sided story there. Think you need to fact check first. Swans have been at the pong for 3-4yrs I believe, this is the first Yr they have nested and reared young though. Nothing of the anglers that have tried in vain to get things sorted only for it to fall on deaf ears at the folk that are responcable for the upkeep of the pond. Look at pics from bygone years and the state of it now, is that the anglers fault or those that should be dealing with the uokeep

  5. why do you run a story and not get local anglers to put their side across AND BLAME THEM FOR NEGLECT, i have been trying to resolve this issue for over 2 and a half years, over 20+ emails to the EA/MPS/LEEDS COUNCIL/PARKS MANAGER,AND HAVE THEM SAVED..I FIND IT HARD TO BELIEVE YOU OR ANY OTHER MEDIA WOULD TRY TO BRING ANGLERS DOWN,IT IS NOT ON,come along to the meetings we have planned then run a story on genuine anglers, it has only come to this because of lack of maintenance and the same old sob story ,we have no funds, but yet can spend thousands on the kids park upgrade ,absolutely diabolical.go take some pics of the tall reeds close to the banks and tell me they would be safe should a child fall in there again,it has already happened once ,i was the one who saved the farther and child along with a few other anglers….once a child falls in there and dies then come back and run a story…because that is the only time anything gets done in this world, or now because of lock down and quite surroundings the swans had a family which everything now has to stop for….total joke, anglers can be at one with these birds and other, instead of slagging them give us the help we need simple as that remove the obstacles and make more room so anglers can spread out ,birds have coexisted with anglers for 100s of years and will continue to do so.

    1. Hi Chris. Many thanks – but we did include the perspectives of local anglers, including (I think) you! I can’t see where in the article we blame the anglers for neglect: the only reference to maintenance suggests that the anglers have been calling for it, to no avail. We’ve also quoted the anglers as stressing that they have co-existed with birdlife for many years, as do you here. And we concluded with Kim’s quote, which calls for cooperation amongst all the stakeholders – and have encouraged people to contact the Parks team to be part of that. Finally though, we’d very happily feature angling more on South Leeds Life – let’s stay in touch. Thanks again.

  6. I visited the park last Sunday 21st June. The swans and cygnets where happily swimming around the pond and diving for food. To my horror the female swan began to struggle franticly, she had fishing line tangled round her neck! This went on for over 5 minutes until a young fisherman went into the water and cut the wire from her, she would have more than likely have been strangled if it had not been for his brave action. On Monday 22nd June I visited the park again to see the male swan slumped in the water. The RSPCA had been called and later had to bring a boat to the pond to help the swan who had a substantial amount of fishing line wrapped around his tough. People are visiting the park just the see the swan family and finding it very upsetting to see them harmed in this way. I rest my case!

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