Established as early as the 1040’s as a source of delicious swan meat for the nearby monks, the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset, England is now a fenceless sanctuary for the majestic fowl, housing hundreds of the birds each year.
The flocks of mute swans that call the swanery’s natural lagoon home were already on the site when St. Peter’s monastery was established on the site in the 11th century. The reedy body of water was perfectly conducive to the lives of the long-necked birds, and the birds themselves were in turn perfectly conducive to the appetites of the hungry monks who moved in around them. For over 500 years the monastery farmed the swan population for meat, careful not to over poach their stock. When the monastery was finally dissolved in 1539, the swans remained (likely breathing a sigh of relief). The land was then purchased by a wealthy family who still holds the estate today.
While the swans are no longer used for meat their population is still supported by the swannery, which takes care of the flocks as they come to have their babies (known as cygnets). While mute swans are generally extremely territorial (and who wouldn’t be after hundreds of years of being eaten), the swans in the Abbotsbury Swannery are notoriously docile. Not only do the birds not seem to mind the proximity of their brethren, but they will also allow humans to get cautiously close to them, even if the cygnets are around, making the spot a popular tourist attraction.
Each year after the birds molt and are confined to the lagoon for week at which time researchers count the birds which usually number between 600-900, making the Abbotsbury Swannery not just the only managed group of the silent birds in the world, but one of the largest as well.
Visit England withAtlas Obscura Trips
London Science Weekend: Medicine and Science in the Press
Join New York Times Journeys and Atlas Obscura for three days of scientific learning, special access and exploration in London. Accompanied by Times journalists and scientific experts, meet people contributing to the history of medicine and scientific journalism. This two-track program includes panels, exclusive visits and access to some of the best scientific minds available to concentrate on science reporting or medical history.