Fears are growing that dozens of missing swans may have been eaten by desperate poachers after the butchered carcass of a bird was found near to King’s Mill Reservoir.
The sickening remains of the bird were found at the weekend with its feathers plucked and evidence of precision knife marks to the bones where the meat had been stripped away.
With dwindling number of the protected species being recorded around the reservoir in recent years, it is now thought that others may have been slaughtered and eaten.
Ray Hallam, a member of the Friends of King’s Mill Reservoir, said: “At one time we’ve had as many as 63 swans in the water. In the last few years there’s been about 40, now you can’t count 20.
“You have to give and take a little but there are swans missing in bigger numbers than we’ve had before.
“I definitely think that others have been taken away and eaten.”
Mr Hallam received a call on Sunday to say that the remains of a swan had been found on a footpath between the railway line and the back of industrial estate off Hermitage Lane, just a few hundred metres from the reservoir.
One of the wings had been cleanly cut from the rest of the body, and there was a ‘bed of white feathers’ next the carcass.
There was no sign of the bird’s legs.
“It wasn’t a fox, a fox would have taken the whole thing away,” added Mr Hallam.
“The meat has been cut off and down to the bone. It’s not been done by a wild animal, it’s been done by someone with a knife in their hand.
“You can see the cut marks on the feathers. It’s been killed and slaughtered for its meat.
“This is a massive threat, these people do not realise and they’d be willing to kill every last one.
“I adore the swans, and it really upsets me and gets to me that people would do this.
“I sometimes go out at night just to see if they are alright.”
It is often said that all swans are under the ownership of the Queen, however, the Crown retains the right of all unmarked mute swans in open water.
But the Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries.
Killing or injuring a swan used to be classed as treason under a law dating back to the 12th Century.
Hundreds of years ago their meat was considered a delicacy and was served at banquets.
Swans now have statutory protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Wendy Radford, who runs Cedar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kirkby, says she was not shocked by the latest discovery.
“This is an issue we’re coming across more and more, and it really concerns me,” said Wendy.
“They are a protected species and it’s wrong that people are doing this.
“I’ve noticed that the number of swans at the reservoir has gone down dramatically, but it’s not just people eating them.”
In October an appeal to local anglers was issued after a swan had been found with a fishing hook snagged in its beak.
Meanwhile police have confirmed they are looking into the slaughtered swan found at the weekend and that the RSPCA had been informed.