Poulton great-grandma has looked after more than a hundred injured swans over 30 years – and vows to continue ‘until she pops her clogs’

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A Poulton animal lover who has nursed more than a hundred swans back to health on behalf of the RSPCA has promised to carry on caring for Britain’s most majestic bird until the end of her days.


Irene O'Connor has been helping the RSPCA rehabilitate swans for more than 30 years

Irene O’Connor has been helping the RSPCA rehabilitate swans for more than 30 years

For more than 30 years, Irene O’Connor has been looking after injured swans at the quaint holiday cottage development which she owns – the appropriately named Swan‘ s Rest in Poulton.

She said: “Any injured wildfowl come to me, and I will look after it until the time comes when the RSPCA pick it up and put it back. Other times, people bring me birds at my door. I used to go out collecting orphaned ducklings and other things when my husband was alive; I used to go all over Lancashire collecting swans, but I don’t do that any more because of my age.”

Irene first started looking after swans and other wild birds with her husband, Patrick, in the 1980s. He died in 2010 at the age of 76, and now Irene keeps his spirit alive by continuing the rescue work they began all those years ago.

Irene pictured with the cygnet that was brought in for care after being attacked by a dog

Irene pictured with the cygnet that was brought in for care after being attacked by a dog

“I give them injections when the vets send them, and do for them anything else that needs doing. It’s mainly giving them a safe place to recuperate while giving them whatever treatment the vet provides,” she said.

Currently undergoing rehab at Swan’s Rest is a cygnet that was attacked by a dog, an adult female swan called Mabel who arrived with an injured leg, and Columbo, the Stanley Park swan who had to have its eye removed due to an infection.

As well as these rescue cases, the holiday site is also home to two permanent residents: Pearl, a haughty Polish swan who reigns supreme over her pond, and Prince, who came to Swan’s Rest for treatment when he was five-months-old and decided to stay.

They live on a diet of nutritious grains and – controversially – bread, which Irene says she has sworn by for more than three decades.

Irene feeds the swans

Irene feeds the swans

Irene said: “I’m very much interested in animals and always have been. When I took in my first swan, at the time I bred horses, cows and dogs, so they have always been a big part of my life.

“Swans can be aggressive, but it’s just a case of knowing how to handle them. It’s not difficult if you know what you’re doing.

“It’s very rewarding work. It’s always nice when the RSPCA picks up a bird they have brought to you, saying they didn’t think it was going to make it. When it goes back into the wild, that’s how you know it’s a job well done.”

Swan’s Rest was once featured on the smash hit TV show Animal Hospital, when Irene was filmed releasing a swan she had rehabilitated back into the Kincraig Nature Reserve in Bispham.

Paul Fothergill, maintenance manager at Swan's Rest, with one of the swans

Paul Fothergill, maintenance manager at Swan’s Rest, with one of the swans

Now a grandma of five – and a great-grandma of one – Irene says she will carry on looking after swans ‘until she pops her clogs’.

She said: “As long as I’m fit I shall carry on, and after that I suppose a member of my family will take over.

“I will take any wild waterfowl, but swans are my absolute favourites. I think they are the most majestic bird there is.


David Hatton, an RSPCA animal rescue officer based in Lancashire, said: “The RSPCA has worked with Swan’s Rest for many years and we are very grateful for the support we receive from Irene.

“Often if we rescue an injured swan in the area which is in need of respite care and rehabilitation then we will take it to Swan’s Rest.

“Once the bird has been nursed back to full health we will collect it and take it for release.

“This frees up space at our Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich who can then deal with more seriously injured birds and means we spend less time travelling further afield.

“Thanks to Irene, we are able to spend time rescuing more animals in need. She does great work and is a pleasure to work with in helping animals that need care.”