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.”
Marlborough Climate Pledge was launched in May 2006 when the former Environment Minister, Michael Meacher addressed a packed Town Hall. He described it as “the most amazing meeting I’ve attended for ten or twenty years. You don’t often get meetings like this.”
Five years on and the stalwarts who formed the organisation and are now its steering group, were welcoming guests to their birthday party last Friday at the Wesley Hall – armed with some of their environmental ‘bare feet’ posters.
After a supper, they heard from representatives of other local green groups: the Pewsey Environment Action Team or PEAT, Corsham Transition Town and the Aldbourne Village Green group.
Marlborough Climate Pledge’s original – and continuing – aim is to help people make individual pledges to take action that helps reduce their personal use of energy and so make their own contribution to reducing our impact on climate change. The pledges come in four categories: waste, transport, energy and food.
It’s not just a ‘box-ticking’ exercise. There’s been follow-up, asking people to let them know how well they’re keeping to their pledges – then they can estimate the collective impact on saving CO2 in the Marlborough area.
They have taken a number of other initiatives to spread the word in the Marlborough area.
They hold monthly ‘Green Drinks’ sessions in the back room of the Sun – informal sessions during which they hear from an expert about such topics as green investment, green energy or how industry is adapting itself to climate change. They have also shown a number of films highlighting problems facing the environment.
Marlborough Climate Pledge run the popular monthly farmers’ markets in the Town Hall. These started in 2008 and now include a fair-trade café.
They have spent a lot of their own energy in persuading both the recent and present Devizes constituency MPs to support national initiatives and urge the government to impose tougher limits on damaging emissions.
Feedback from MPs makes it clear that this campaigning really helps them to judge the strength of feeling on green issues.
They had enormous support in the town during their political campaigning in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change summit and the climate change Bill. And they are still getting a strong response.
As one of the group’s founders, Jo Ripley, says: “People like the fact that on this serious issue they are part of a movement – and a cause.”
Ambitious plans to open up for public use the old eight-mile Swindon to Marlborough railway line, which was closed to passenger trains 50 years ago this September, were outlined to Marlborough town council on Monday.
The nucleus of a new group of former members of the Marlborough Cycling Club have linked up with Sustrans, the leading charity that promotes travel by foot, bike and public transport, whose area manager, Alistair Millington, detailed their local proposals to councillors.
Sustrans has leased the route, once considered as a bypass for Marlborough, from Wiltshire Council and already cleared and sustained part of it for cyclists.
“But the route is there for all to enjoy, not only cyclists but walkers and horse riders,” he pointed out. “Some children even use it to walk to school or as an access to the Tesco supermarket.”
“And it is a great asset for tourism as a gateway to the downs.”
However, although a friends group of volunteers have improved sections, it was going to take the expenditure of tens of thousands of pounds to make the old railway pathway sustainable.
With this in mind, Sustrains is contemplating a bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery and is now seeking the support of other organisations, Marlborough town council in particular, to demonstrate the commitment of local people to the project.
“It will take many years,” added Mr Millington. “But we want to renew the lease for the path with Wiltshire at the end of the first 25 years and a modest contribution from the town council will show your commitment to what we want to do.”
“It will be a wonderful way to get to Swindon.”
Anyone interested in the project can contact Nick Stedman, a member of a Friends of the Path group about to be formed, on 01672 861658.
Strange rumours are flooding Marlborough claiming that the town council is responsible for the lack of a commuter bus to take High Street shoppers up to the new Tesco supermarket in the Salisbury Road business park.
But Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, Marlborough’s new mayor, killed them cold at Monday’s town council meeting when he declared that neither Wiltshire Council nor the town council is responsible for local bus services.
“The reluctance of buses to go up to Tesco is not the concern of us or Wiltshire Council,” he declared. “It’s strange how these rumours take hold.”
And he added that the unnamed bus company involved had said it didn’t have enough buses to run such a route and would have to buy a new one to provide a Tesco shuttle.
The mayor, who is involved with Kennet Community Transport, which provides services for the disabled, told Marlborough News Online later that this organisation was unable to be involved because it did not have the capacity to collect fares and/or charge Tesco for a service.
“We gave it serious thought, but we were unable to help,” he said, pointing out that the cost of a shuttle bus of the type it used was £70,000.
He understood that supermarket had approached various transport companies passing through Marlborough to provide either a linked or shuttle bus service but that none of them were able to do so.
David Johnson and Aldbourne claimed yet another 2011 Berlioz inspired victory in the Senior Trophy – this time with a performance of 'Benvenuto Cellini' that adjudicator Stan Lippeatt described as 'exceptional' in his summing up remarks prior to the announcement of the results.
The Winter Gardens in Blackpool rang to the sound of cheers as Aldbourne Band went on stage to receive the Senior Trophy at the Spring Festival.
Just a few months ago, Dave had led the band to victory on 'Le Carnival Romain' in the First Section at the West of England Regional Championships in Torquay, and was as equally thrilled by his latest success.
"It's all about ambition for this band," David Johnson said as he held aloft the Senior Trophy. "This band has got it, and so have I - and we want to realise it together. I thought we played brilliantly today - and I couldn't have asked for anything more from the players.
"This was about our desire to improve and compete at the highest level. We still have a long way to go, but we will get there if we continue to play as well as this."
Chairman James Sheppard said: “It was a fantastic reward for all the hard work and commitment shown by all the players, and the help and support from their families and Friends of the Band.
"We now have our sights firmly set on the National Finals at Cheltenham on 25th September. There is a coach for supporters and the spaces are limited so do contact Gavin Dixon on telephone 01672 541204 to book your place!”
The Band are looking forward to the forthcoming series of popular outdoor Pond Concerts held in the village of Aldbourne on the first Sunday of June, July, August and September. These concerts are family friendly, informal and great fun. If it is wet the concerts will commence in St Michael’s church.
A 61-year-old Aldbourne man who aims to become the first over-60 to climb the North Ridge of Mount Everest and only the second to reach the summit could be making his final ascent this week.
As well as entering the record books, company director Simon Knighton also hopes to raise £100,000 for the charity Age UK and local good causes during the 69-day challenge.
Simon and his fellow climbers (pictured) arrived at North Col camp at 6,100 metres on Monday and were due to make the push to 7,800m on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Simon sent a message via Twitter to his friends, family and followers: “We have now firmed on 26th for our summit attempt and will go up to N Col on Monday.”
And on Sunday team leader Zac Poulton blogged: “From the North Col we’ll climb to Camp 2 (7,800m) on the 24th, Camp 3 (8,250m) on the 25th, and depart for the summit that evening between 21:00 and 22:30 (16:15 and 17:45 on 25th May UK time).
“The climb should take 8-10 hours so we’re aiming to be on top of the world soon after sunrise on the 26th May (around 03:00 on 26th May UK time).
"A quick descent should see everyone at Camp 2 or lower before nightfall and everyone back to ABC by the evening of the 27th.
"We have a great forecast, a fit and healthy team, the strongest Sherpa team on the mountain and the route to ourselves… Blue skies.”
Talking about the about the challenges of his climb before he left the UK, Simon said: “I’m by no means a professional mountaineer, and climbing Mount Everest will be the greatest challenge of my life.
"I’ve been training for the climb for a year and whilst I feel confident I can tackle Everest, I know that luck will have a significant part to play in my success.
He added: “I’m dedicating the expedition to Age UK and local charitable organisations as I feel that we should all have access to health and wellbeing services in later life.
"I’m also hoping my experience will inspire others to set themselves a personal challenge and do something extraordinary for charity.
She zipped up her wellies and waded into the water for a morning paddle, as the cameras clicked and the experts watched.
There may have been an odd fish here , a black coot there and some elegantly growing yellow irisis on the bankside.
But what Claire Perry, Marlborough’s 47-year-old Tory MP, was witnessing was one of England’s rare chalk streams in trouble, the River Kennet at a trickle, its low water level at danger point.
And though she praised the work of Action River Kennet in transforming the kilometre-long section of the river as it flows under Stonebridge Lane bridge, in Marlborough, which she visited on Friday, the signals are at red.
In fact growing numbers of people are worried about the dual concerns of continued massive water extraction by Thames Water at Axford, to serve Swindon’s residents, and the dramatic lack of rain to maintain the river flow.
Looking at the 15-acre Stonebridge Meadow project, a combined operation with Marlborough Town Council, Mrs Perry declared: “What is being been done here is really impressive, quite wonderful.
“Rivers are incredible natural resources. And chalk streams like the Kennet are rather rare. We have them only here, in New Zealand and in northern France.”
But she warned: “The trouble is that the abstraction doesn’t change, no matter what is happening to the rivers. It’s just an extraordinary situation. I just think we have a huge timing problem.
“We may be running too late and a lot of damage can be done to the river. The Kennet could be dry by the summer.”
Trained geographer Charlotte Hitchmough, the director of ARK, who lives at Manton, pointed out that the current situation matched the period that preceded the 1976 drought.
“The river does bounce back but it takes a long time to do so. And flowers like the white water crowfoot – a sea of them is a classic scene for chalk streams – are only getting going if you have a strong flow during the winter. So there’s nothing on which the fish can feed.
“And so the problem works its way up the food chain. The lack of flowers is a warning sign. Even water crayfish are affected. They are such strong animals that if there is nothing else to eat they will start eating each other.”
That means there is no chance of ARK re-stocking the river and introducing fishing to youngsters while so much water is hijacked elsewhere.
Mrs Perry, who admitted that she had once caught a trout – in Colorado – does have a direct interest in rivers, as her home outside Salisbury is on the banks of the River Ebble, which sometimes floods her garden.
Now she has joined forces with a group of MPs with similar river problems in their constituencies. They are lobbying nearby Newbury MP Richard Benyon, the Defra minister, who has promised a White Paper on dealing with water problems, especially in light of climate change.
“I think it will come early autumn,” said Mrs Perry. “There is lots and lots of proper thinking going on in his department. They want to do it right and not just make platitudinous noises.
“He really cares about this problem. So our group of MPs is working really hard to say this is a common problem for all of us and needs to be tackled.”
The first look at a potentially international project to reduce the increasing parking crisis was shown to members of Marlborough town council on Monday night – by one of its own members.
Councillor Martin Houlden demonstrated how the introduction of Parkshare will encourage those with free parking sites to help those seeking parking space by the adoption of his creative scheme.
And 38-year-old Mr Houlden revealed that his intention is that Marlborough will be the guinea pig this week, to show the rest of the country – and others abroad – how his initiative will be of mutual benefit to all those involved.
His aim is to enable householders and businesses with unused daytime parking space to offer it online for a daily or weekly fee or, if they wish, enable people to barter for a site by offering goods or simple services such as cutting the lawn or running a few errands.
“It’s very Big Society,” says Mr Houlden, whose Parkshare project was greeted with acclaim by fellow councillors after they had quizzed him as to how it will work.
The project was described as “brilliant” and “absolutely amazing,” though there were concerns that older people are not always computer literate and others worried about how disputes, may be over damage to a parking site, are sorted.
But Mr Houlden insisted these were problems that could be easily solved.
He is the ideal person to promote such a project since he has been running his own specialist computer company, South Design Ltd., in Marlborough for the past 11 years and lives nearby in Burbage with his wife and two children.
He conceived the Parkshare solution to parking problems when he stood – unsuccessfully -- as an independent candidate for Devizes at last year’s General Election, and then canvassed the idea while standing for election to Marlborough town council last August.
“Most people I spoke to thought it was an excellent idea, and so that spurred me on to start the design and project planning,” he told Marlborough News Online. “So far it's taken about six months to get to launch stage, though I'm expecting to get feedback that will have to be acted upon to get it 100 per cent ready.”
“It's not just nationwide. I have actually built it in two additional languages -- French and German -- so that it can be used internationally. The site is completely free to use.”
“But it takes a 10 per cent cut from the fee that the owner receives if -- and only if - they successfully rent a space they've advertised.”
“Of course about half of this fee is then sent off to the payment processing company – in this case PayPal -- so we're left with a margin of around four to six percent, depending on size of transaction.”
And he added: “The other alternative is to list a parking space as a ‘Community’ space, which means that instead of a financial payment, the 'seller' is prepared to trade goods or services.”
“So, for example, you could find someone who has a space near the town, who might not be mobile enough to mow their own lawn, or nip to the shops. In that scenario, the person parking would have to agree to run a few errands, or get the lawnmower out at the weekend.”
“Any ‘Community’ spaces are completely free of charge, and we don't get any financial benefit whatsoever.”
His Parkshare site has been in what he calls 'alpha' test mode since March. “We're now in 'beta' mode which means a release version is now ready,” he reveals.
“There will of course be a few bugs for us to fix before a nationwide release, but I think that Marlborough is an ideal place to test the features, and see what users think.”
“As for charges, well that's up to the people who rent the space to decide. My advice would be to look at the cost of some of the Permit Parking areas within the town, then work out if your property is in a better/worse location, and price accordingly.”
“My guess would be that a good spot near the centre of town could easily fetch £40 to £50 per month.”
He is now hoping the official launch date is likely to be in June, but the beta release to Marlborough residents is this Thursday.
“Once we're ready for the full release we'll be emailing our business lists, creating press releases and, of course, launching the iPhone app to accompany it into the App Store.”
Spending cuts introduced by Wiltshire Council means that Marlborough’s tourist information centre, based in the High Street library, will close next week.
Activist Val Compton gave the warning to Marlborough town council on Monday night and asked what action was being taken to ensure the continuance of such a vital service.
She pointed out the library opening hours had been reduced by 50 per cent as well, that the woman in charge of tourist information had taken redundancy, and added: “The council needs to take action to solve this problem.”
Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, the mayor, replied that the appropriate committee would discuss the problem, which also affected Avebury, where the tourist information centre was also being closed.
He said he understood the woman employee would be available to run another such centre and added: “That ought to give you some comfort.”
Providing a tourist information centre inside the vestibule of Marlborough town hall is one aim of the improvements proposed for the building by Marlborough town council. “But that is sometime in the future,” the mayor later told Marlborough News Online.
One of Marlborough's best loved businesses is up for sale, giving someone the opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream of owning a toy shop.
The town's only toy shop, Ducklings, has been put on the market after its owner was struck down with a serious illness.
Retailer Chris Birkett and his family have been living in Bristol, where he has been receiving regular hospital treatment, since last year.
The effects of the treatment and the distance from Marlborough have made it difficult to run an otherwise viable business, Chris told Marlborough News Online today.
He said: “Ducklings will be two years old in July, which I think is pretty good considering the very tough economic climate, bridge closure and all the other things that have affected both the town and my family and I.
“However, we've come to the decision to sell the business as a going concern. It has been a very difficult decision, but I think it's the right one for our long term future.
“I'd like to try and appeal to someone locally who – like me – had followed a very different career path and had not considered going into retail until the right opportunity arose.
“People are being made redundant at the moment, and are receiving pay-offs that they might want to invest into a delightful local business, which has been a real pleasure to run.”
The popular toy shop stocks a variety of well-known brands including Playmobil, Airfix, Sylvanian Families, Orchard Toys games and puzzles, Warhammer kits and paints and pocket money toys.
It opened in July 2009, following the closure of Ducks toy shop in Marlborough High Street. The owner of Ducks, Tony Gray, who closed his due to retirement at the age of 70, gave his blessing for the new business to be named Ducklings.
In its opening year, Chris – who was a data analyst before setting up shop in Hiller's Yard – was a finalist in the inaugural Marlborough New Business of the Year competition, run by Marlborough Chamber of Commerce.
He went on to chair the chamber's Retail Forum, and was a vociferous champion of shops in the town.
The business is for sale for £20,000. Investors would need around £10,000 to buy the existing stock, and the deposit for the leasehold is £6,250 plus fixtures and fittings.
It is on the market with Dalston's Commercial. For further details log on to www.daltonsbusiness.com
Chris Birkett can be contacted on 07823 441614