Man made ‘nest’ sees five cygnets reared in estuary after years of failure

Swan and cygnets on the raft at Oranmore. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Swan and cygnets on the raft at Oranmore. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

After the better part of a decade of their nests being washed away, Oranmore has this Spring seen five cygnets born to a set of swans thanks to a man made raft.
Peter Butler, who works in GMIT is the man behind the raft, having moved to Oranmore just last year. “We watched them build the nest [last year], but the tide came in and swamped the nest and the eggs got washed away. I got curious, thinking why would they build there?”
As it turns out the woes of the swans were well known locally and Mr Butler, a nature enthusiast, decided to intervene and try to find a solution.
Mr Butler got to work devising a floating raft that would offer the swans protection for their young, be near food sources and close to where they had always tried to unsuccessfully nest.
“I did some research into why the swans nested there, and the island on which they used to nest got eroded away over the years,” explains Peter.
A raft seemed the only viable option at this stage. Councils in England use plastic floatation devices in lakes and rivers for the same purpose, but these top-of-the-range rafts with moorings cost anywhere between €5,000 and €10,000.
“We were running against the clock, because the swans would be nesting again soon. This was August and we didn’t have the time to fundraise the €10,000 required to buy a raft, then I came across pictures of wooden rafts in Holland used in canals,” explains Peter.
So he got to work replicating the Dutch design in a cost-effective way. The process required expertise and his background in mechanical engineering was of huge benefit here.
With his work complete, he now had to lure the swans onto the raft. To do this they put nesting materials on top of the raft and bits of food, and, sure enough, a few days after the raft was launched, the swans had begun to put their stamp on it.
“Nine eggs were laid, eight hatched and sadly only five survived,” explains Peter. “People can see nesting swans and I always thought it was a lovely thing worth doing. It was a calculated gamble, there was no guarantee that the swans would use the raft or indeed lay and hatch eggs.”
For more on this story, see the Connacht Tribune.