The urban myth of Swan Bake

I moored Bristol Fashion near the Horse and Barge pub in Denham, overlooking Harefield Marina. Because I was having trouble mooring in shallow water, a chap helped me pull the boat in. We chatted and he told me a story I’d heard somewhere before.

He said that there were fewer swans around these days because a group of Lithuanians were catching them and cooking them on a fire in the nearby woods. In particular one swan was missing, the one that’s always picking a fight with the geese.

This rang some bells so I looked it up. In July 2003 the Sun put a similar story on its front page under the headline “SWAN BAKE Asylum seekers steal the Queen’s birds for barbecues”. The Sun said that the Metropolitan Police had put this in an official report. Of course it was a made-up story; there was no such police statement and a statement from a swan sanctuary was embellished by a journalist. This story, with untrue and presumably racist foundations, was not properly retracted or apologised for by the Sun, and has now become a persistent urban myth.

The next day I saw a swan giving noisy chase to two geese. He’s safe then.

There are some confessed swan eaters out there. The BBC in March 2005 reported that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, cooked a swan that had died when it hit power lines. He was quoted as saying: “I had to give a statement. I offered them coffee and asked them if they would like to try some swan terrine but I think they were rather horrified. That was a mistake, wasn’t it?

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