The Fleet lagoon is the stretch of water that lies behind that extraordinary storm beach of nature-graded pebbles which stretches for 18 miles along the Dorset coast.
This brackish, tidal pool is an SSSI, a Ramsar site for a very obvious reason; it positively teems with wildfowl – particularly at Abbotsbury Swannery, the biggest colony of mute swans in the world. There were tufted ducks, coots and what could have been a couple of mergansers but there were many more water birds enjoying the seclusion of the Fleet further along the velvety green convoluted edges where land meets slip-slappy water.
Contrary to popular myth, the Queen does not own all the mute swans in England – she owns some of the swans at Abbotsbury but others wear leg rings that show they are Abbotsbury owned and bred.
The swans are all wild, as Abbotsbury Swannery is not a zoo but a sanctuary. None are angry enough to break your arm, though. They are very tolerant of visitors, receiving thousands every year.
We called in there on a sunny day a couple of weeks ago when the gusty wind was whipping up the Fleet to a froth of glittering ripples and wavelets, populated by bobbing ducks and swans.
The swans are very used to tourists so you don’t feel you’re treading on webbed feet when you take intrusive photographs. Several hundred of them turn up for feeding time, when a barrowful of grain gets chucked to them by Abbotsbury staff and volunteers from the public.
Although the staff so their best to ensure the grain is evenly distributed – it was obvious by the size of theswans who guzzled directly from the wheelbarrow that they made a habit of it. They were substantially bigger and heavier than most of the others. Survival of the smartest!