Love, Loss and Infidelity

We speak to Richard Sales about the goings on amongst the swans of Chiswick House

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Richard feeds the new male swan

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Chiswick House Trust

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Who would have thought that Chiswick House Grounds would be such a hot bed of passion? Or that it would where the old adage ‘swans mate for life’ would be so emphatically disproved? To the dog walking community, this will come as little surprise for most have been following the epic tale of love and loss being played out on the lake.

During the icy period in early January, the two resident cygnets left the lake presumably to find more inviting waters, a few days later the widowed female also left only return a week later.

I liked my idea that she had gone in search of her offspring, a thought that Richard Sales would have liked to have agreed with if his knowledge of water birds didn’t fall so firmly on the side of fact as opposed to my Mills & Boon fantasy!

One of the founding members of the Goose Foot Volunteers, a group based at Chiswick House who undertake a significant amount of work in the grounds, Richard was instrumental in getting swans back on the lake. “Basically, I started volunteering some years ago and arranged for the original singleton swan that was on the lake to be taken to the Swan Sanctuary and replaced with the young pair in about 2004.” Richard explains as we take a walk around the lake to feed the swans.

“I remember phoning the Swan Sanctuary and asking if we could have some swans. I thought they would have to come and check us out but they used Google Earth to make sure it was a suitable home for swans. When they declared that it was, I asked how many pairs could we have but apparently we’ve only room for one pair on this lake!”

A retired airline pilot, Richard first took an interest in the grounds at Chiswick House when he starting walking his first dog Cassie there in 1982, newer comers to the dog walking scene will know him as Flora's owner. “I was appalled when I saw the state of the lake. Eventually I started pulling things out of the water onto the bank and then CiP workers would sometimes take the rubbish away. “That was in the days before the Goose Foot Volunteers,” he proudly shows me his official volunteer t-shirt, “now we do that work.”

Richard took on the responsibility of feeding the swans and keeping a close watch on their nest. He was devastated when the male swan died in May last year. “I couldn’t believe it, after all that time trying he finally became a father and died four days later! The trouble is that the male swans are so full of testosterone at that time of year they have tunnel vision. My theory is that he was so busy chasing one of the Canadian Geese, he flew straight into the Classic Bridge and sustained his fatal injuries.” Richard paid for the autopsy himself, the results of which showed that his theory was most probably correct.

The widowed swan had been living alone on the lake until Sunday 8th February when a family of three - a male, a female and a cygnet - appeared.

The original female took no time seeing off the young cygnet last seen flying in the direction of the A316 most probably to the Thames. She then made short work of distracting the male’s attentions away from his partner and firmly onto her (see photo right courtesy of

Richard discovered the new female looking rather dejected at the far end of the lake about an hour or so later. He tried to give her food but she wouldn’t let him approach her.

“By Monday morning she had also left - leaving our resident female swan with a new mate.

"As of today they are still there.” He said. “Who said swans pair for life?”

Emma Brophy


February 27, 2009