With the swans on Brayford Pool: England’s oldest inland harbour

By Alex

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The original name for Lincoln was “Lindon”, and since “Lin” means “pool” and “don” means “at the foot of a hill”, the city wouldn’t be what we know it as today without this historic waterfront.

The story of the Brayford begins in earnest in 48AD. Lindon, an inland port town, grew after the Romans conquered Lincolnshire and built a fort on the site. As it became larger and more prosperous, the River Witham was deepened and the Foss Dyke canal was built to connect it to the River Trent.

The Romans had left by the early 5th Century but the city continued to grow. In the 10th Century, the Vikings named the pool “Breit-ford” – which translates to “where the river is broad, and fordable”. It was much larger back then!

After years of decline due to a lumbering wool trade, the pool saw industrial renewal in the 18th Century, where it became encircled by a hectic cluster of mills, warehouses and breweries.

As the road and rail networks developed, however, Brayford’s prosperity – which had relied heavily on the lucrativeness of barges – declined once more. The pool became a derelict wasteland of half-sunken barges and abandoned mills. In 1964 propositions were put forward to turn the Wharf area into a giant car park!

Fortunately, the Brayford Trust was established in 1969 and saw the restoration of this beautiful marina.

Today, the pool hosts a range of wildlife and pleasure craft, and is overlooked by the modern University of Lincoln and a range of restaurants, hotels and a cinema.

Breeding upstream on the River Witham, away from the city, the most easily identifiable bird on the waters of the Brayford are mute swans (Cygnus olor)

The swans have been an attraction to visitors for many years.

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Spotting mute swans

The mute swan is one of the UK’s largest birds. They have a graceful S-shaped neck, and when airborne they fly with their neck extended and slow wingbeats. Adults have orange bills with a black base. Male swans have a larger black “bump” at the base of their bill.

The male is known as a cob, while the female is known as a pen. Swans are usually monogamous, but it is not unknown for swans to “divorce”. Nests are usually huge mounds of dried grass and vegetation at the edge of the water, constructed by the female.

Eggs are laid between April and May, and are incubated by both parents. Young swans are known as cygnets, and will hatch after around 40 days, staying with their parents for up to five months. They are brownish grey in colour,, and turn white in their first summer.

Despite the name, the swans are not mute: they will hiss when aggressive, and cygnets make a “whistling” noise. Video by Paul Dinning.

Lincoln’s swans are often brought to the Brayford by the prospect of food by visitors. They feed during the day – they dip their heads in the water, and you’ll often see them “up-ending” to eat plants and vegetation. Some of their favourite food includes algae, soft grasses, snails and insects.

Trivia: Mute swans are the only breed of swan the queen actually owns – and, apart from Royals, the only other people allowed to eat swan are fellows of St. John’s College, Cambridge, on exactly the 25th of June.

Better protection may have contributed to the increase in mute swan populations. For more information, see the RSPB page on the mute swan.

Other bird and wild life that can be spotted around the Brayford and the River Witham includes the pied Wagtail, kingfishers, mallards, moorhens, coots, herons; fish such as roach, tench and pike; and five different types of dragonfly.

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