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Val Compton reveals the amazing saga of the rescue of Marlborough’s tiny cygnets

The amazing 24-hour rescue of five cygnets swept over the Town millrace in Marlborough – two of them given up for dead – was revealed tonight (Tuesday)  by wildlife enthusiast and community champion Val Compton.

She nursed overnight the two cygnets at her home in Kennet Place after refusing to have them put down, then even taking them with her in her shopping basket to an urgent meeting at Marlborough Town Hall.

After lunch today Val managed to reunite the two – she named them Little and Large because of their size -- with the swan family on the banks of River Kennet, in Waitrose car park.

And delightedly watched them swim off together.

“We just waited around in jubilation, really,” she told Marlborough News Online. “There they were all back together again in the water. That left me a very, very happy person.”

The drama began while Val was out on Monday morning when five of a total of six cygnets were swept over the town millrace and caught up in the turbulent water at the bottom. Two of her neighbours, Marcus and Kurt, jumped in and pulled them out, putting them back with their parents.

But as a crowd gathered to see what was happening, it became obvious that two of the cygnets, about two weeks old, were in an extremely poor condition.

“Someone went across to Marlborough police station and by the time I was called out on my return home by Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital, just outside Salisbury, I found these two little cygnets soaked to the skin and genuinely looking as if they were about to die,” revealed Val.

“The problem was how to get them away from the cob and be able to pick them up. The police decided I should deal with the cob and they would deal with the babies.

“I wasn’t frightened of dealing with a big swan because I have a secret weapon I came across last year when I was trying to get a cob away from something it was attacking.

“I was wearing a wrap at the time and I just opened my arms in front of the cob. It might have thought I was a huge swan and saved the day.”

This time Val was without any cloak, but she had the umbrella she carries in her handbag. She advanced on the swan holding out the umbrella and making aggressive noises. It backed off and some people in the crowd grabbed the two ailing cygnets.

“I ran home with them,” said Val. “They were look as though they were about to die. In that condition they head weave, moving their heads from side to side with no control. They are unable to turn over and at that point they usually die.”

“The Wildlife Hospital was talking me through it on the phone and they said I might as well take the cygnets to the vet and have them put out of their misery. But I said, ‘Just give me a little time, another hour or so’.”

“What I did was to make sure they were very well supported in a box, so that they couldn’t flip over their backs. I used sheepskin and fur to pad round them and eventually they began to warm up.”

“Then I covered their heads completely, to imitate being under a swan’s protecting wings, but it took several hours before they stopped head weaving and I began to think I was on a lost cause.”

Val then put a towel in the sink to give the cygnets something to grip on to, offered them lettuce and chick weed to feed on before putting back in the box, her problem being that she had an urgent meeting to attend at Marlborough Town Hall.

Undeterred, she put the cygnets in her shopping back, covered them up again and took them to the meeting with her. “They were making very friendly little noises all the way through the meeting,” she said.

“By the time I got them back home they were clearly perking up. So I put them back in the sink. They attempted to eat some food and then attempted to climb out. So I lined my bath with a towel at the bottom and when I dropped them in they began to attempt walking.”

“That’s when I began to think, ‘I’m on to a winner now’ and they certainly survived Monday night in the bath. When I got up at 5.30 this morning I was nevertheless expecting the worst, fearing that they may have died during the night.”

“But there they were making those little whistling noises that cygnets make and enjoying themselves. I ran out to the river and got them some plant foot, put some water in a shallow container in the bath so that they could eat and drink as if in their natural habitat.”

“When they had had enough they started to look a bit tired. I popped them back in the shopping basket and they went off to sleep again.”

Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital suggested that Val might now be able to reunited the cygnets with their family. They problem was: where were the swans and the cygnets now?

She walked all the way from Stonebridge Meadow to the Pewsey Road bridge trying to locate the swans and then found them, once again, on the banks of the Kennet at the edge of the Waitrose car park, where she was worried that the water was too deep if she needed to wade in.

“So I grabbed four St John’s school students, all smashing boys, as helpers,” said Val, continuing the swan saga. “One of them took pictures with my camera, someone held the umbrella, and we managed to get the parent swans separated, just by enticing them with food.”

“The female swan turned round so that she had her back to me. Her other cygnets were wandering around behind her. And with none of them looking, I popped my two cygnets back in the pack.”

“I wanted to make absolutely sure there was no aggression from the parents. I feared the cob might kill the two cygnets. But they just accepted them completely, and they all swam off together.”

“Nobody could ever say Marlborough is boring after all that.”

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  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07
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  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-
  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters