Swans & Swan Cam

The tradition of Swans on the Moat at The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens in Wells is thought to go back to the 1850s when it is likely that a Bishop’s daughter first taught the swans to ring a bell at the Gatehouse for food. We now have two swan bells – one just beneath the window on the left of the Gatehouse, the other to the right – with a rope hanging down for the swans to pull.

Our current pair of Mute Swans, Grace and Gabriel, arrived in May 2019, thanks to Swan Rescue South Wales.

Since their arrival, they have become well-loved inhabitants of the Moat. They improve their nest building each year, and we have been lucky to have cygnets on the moat yearly. They have been known to walk through the market square, become pretty partial to the fudge shop one year, and enjoy being fed swan food.

Gabriel teaches each year’s cygnets how to ring the Gatehouse bell for food before the cygnets leave the moat in the winter/springtime to start life on their own.

Nest building for the next generation of cygnets starts in February/March, and eggs are laid later in March. After incubation of around 40 days, where Grace will remain on the nest, Cygnets tend to hatch around the first week of May.

Our former swan pair, Bryn and Wynn, who were long-standing and much-loved, sadly left us. Bryn, the cob, passed away in April 2018, and Wynn, the pen, departed from the Moat, along with her four remaining cygnets, in October 2018.

It is thought that the family group headed off to the Somerset Levels, a popular site for groups of swans. Wynn returned to the moat briefly in January 2019 before leaving again.

Bishop's Palace Swans 1
Bishop's Palace Swans 2
Bishop's Palace Swans 3
Bishop's Palace Swans 4

Swan News – December 2023

The last few weeks have seen Grace and Gabriel encouraging the remaining four cygnets to leave the moat. There have been several days when only three cygnets have been seen but then the fourth appears again later in the day, so I have a feeling they are just showing a little independence. If anyone was walking along Silver Street or Moat Walk the other Sunday they may have witnessed one of the cygnets returning from an exploratory flight. I received a call in the office to say there was a cygnet in the middle of Silver Street, about halfway down heading towards the Full Moon pub. I went out in search of the cygnet and called slowly to try to encourage it back towards Moat Walk, in what can only be described as ‘cygnet herding’. The cygnet and I had a little walk up Silver Street and along the moat so it could return to the family via the duck feeding platform.

I hope you enjoy a little video of our walk…… 

Swan News – August 2023

The cygnets are growing quickly and I have no doubt they will be looking forward to more people feeding them around the moat during the school holidays! Gabriel has been showing the cygnets how to ring the bell at the Gatehouse for the last few months and it is great that at least two of the cygnets have mastered this already – one is very enthusiastic! We do try to feed the swans at the Gatehouse around lunchtime but it does depend on where the swans are on the moat and if they are hungry.

Swan News – July 2023

I am pleased to be able to give a positive update about the “teenage” cygnet. One of last year’s cygnets was finding it very hard to leave the nest (moat). It had left and returned around five times, and after several attempts by the team here to encourage it to leave, it was far too feisty, and we needed some help. As advised in last month’s newsletter, I had contacted several organisations who are swan experts and was about to arrange for someone from Swan Rescue South Wales to come and help. Swan Rescue South Wales was the organisation that brought Grace and Gabriel to Wells back in 2019. Peter arrived early morning, equipped with various items to assist with safely capturing a feisty cygnet… walked up to our teenager (who was sleeping on Palace Green) and picked it up with no issues at all! I was informed that it was the most effortless cygnet capture ever! After being safely wrapped to ensure the cygnet didn’t hurt itself during its rehoming, it was taken off to be released later in the morning in a suitable place in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Now that all of the last year’s cygnets have left the moat, the swan family are spending lots of time on the moat, and I am pleased to report that at lunchtime today, two of the cygnets were reaching for the rope by the bell – I don’t think it will be long before they can manage to pull the rope for the bell to ring. Gabriel is doing a great job at showing them what to do.
Anyone who visits the moat frequently may have noticed swan feathers around and that Grace’s wings are looking quite small at the moment. This is all perfectly normal and is a process called Moulting. Adult swans moult once a year and will lose and replace their wing feathers. During this time, their wings will look slightly smaller than usual. A mating pair will moult at separate times; this ensures that one can still defend the family if required – their wings are one of the ways they protect themselves. I expect Gabriel to moult as Grace is currently moulting over the coming month.

Swan News – June 2023

Each year I am still surprised at how quickly our lovely cygnets grow. May has seen all five of this year’s cygnets exploring the well pools and the moat and eating everything in sight. They have more than doubled in size and are progressing incredibly well. After the cygnets hatched at the end of April, Grace and Gabriel took them to spend a little quiet time up on the Well Pools. Anyone who visited may have gotten that wonderful photo of the Wells with the Cathedral in the background… and the swan family on the Wells. They encouraged quite a gathering during their first few weeks.
Since the middle of May, they have all been enjoying the Moat and have even been tempted to the bell for a bit of food. Gabriel introduced them to the bell rope, so there have been a few cygnet nibbles which is always encouraging.
Thank you to everyone who submitted and suggested a name for the new cygnets – names were drawn from the suggested list, and they are called: Snowdrop, Floella, Billie, Charles and Bonnie.
Anyone who has visited in recent months will undoubtedly have noticed that we still have a “teenage” cygnet on the Moat/Palace Green. Usually, the grown cygnets leave the moat between September – April, so they have left before the new cygnets arrive. This teenager has actually flown off several times, but it would seem that it likes life on the moat a little too much, so it keeps coming back! I have requested advice from various organisations, and we will keep in discussions to act in the best interests of the swans. If I could ask our regular visitors to the moat and Palace Green area to try to give the cygnet space – of course, it is wonderful to be able to get close to wildlife, but we also need to give them some space. One of the reasons we believe the teenager continues to return and not leave the moat is the abundance of food available. This leads to my second request, which would be not to feed the teenage cygnet. This may help to encourage it to seek out its own food away from the moat – where it can also enjoy the wonders of the Somerset levels and meet up with other cygnets and swans (as it should be doing!). You will see that Grace and Gabriel have been chasing the teenager away from food for a while to help encourage the leaving home process.
As ever, we will keep an eye on last year’s and this year’s cygnets. We do hope that you will be able to visit them over the coming months.

Swan News – April 2023

March has been a busy month with the Swans. Firstly, the egg-citing news is that Grace has laid eggs in the nest and is now incubating on the nest. We have photos of 3 eggs and sight of 5 eggs, but I feel there could be a couple more in there. However, this is unconfirmed as Grace is on the nest most of the time and has any eggs covered well. I will try to take a peek when she turns them over the coming weeks. I must say I am so impressed with Gabriel’s nest-building skills – he has made a great nest, and it’s in the perfect spot too.
This brings us nicely onto SwanCam – I was excited that we have managed to get this up and running earlier than before so that more people could observe Gabriel’s nest-building skills. However, we have experienced some technical challenges. Firstly, rainwater had managed to get into the original cable (which was replaced last week), and the new cable proved to be of great interest to one of the moat residents, and they chewed it!! I need to say that all moat wildlife is okay, but unfortunately, the swan cam cable did not fair so well! As I write this, we are coming up with a rain and wildlife-proof solution for the cabling, and SwanCam will be back up and running shortly. We apologise for the downtime – until now, the biggest challenge I’ve had with the camera is the nest’s location. Every year I learn something new!!
The Cygnets – even I am struggling to keep track of them this year. It is quite usual for some cygnets to be in the moat area when the adults start to nest. They will eventually make their way under their own steam, and we get pretty excited when they fly off. However, some cygnets have left and returned several times this year. The last cygnet has been here on its own for the last couple of weeks – it did leave Palace Green on Tuesday, and when I came to work on Wednesday morning, there was still no sign. I did a little woohoo – however, as soon as I crossed the drawbridge, I saw our lovely cygnet sat in the middle of the croquet lawn! This cygnet obviously wants to be the first on the croquet team for the summer! We hope that as the cygnet has ventured off a few times, it will make its journey away from the moat shortly.
Now that she has laid them all, Grace will incubate the eggs for around 45 days. I think this will probably take us up to early May – which seems to be the nesting timeline on the moat. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that April is a lovely calm month of Grace sitting on the nest and that we will be able to see her periodically turning the eggs gently throughout the month – I’ll let you know in the following newsletter!
Enjoy SwanCam.

Swan Cam

Please note that Swan Cam is no longer available for this year.