Breaking News!


Dear Friends,

Our Annual General Meeting was due to take place on July 29th this year, and as it is very difficult to know exactly what the situation will be regarding the COVID-19 virus by then, we have reluctantly decided that the best way forward is to 'meet' by email, or post for those who do not have email. We look forward to getting back to normal for 2021!


The first note will go out to Members on 20th June asking for nominations for the Committee. We must receive your nominations by July 1st. Please make sure that anyone you nominate confirms to us that they agree to be nominated.

On July 7th, our second note will be sent to Members. This note will include the Minutes from the 2019 AGM, the Annual Reports for 2019-2020, and the list of the nominees for the Committee. We must receive your votes for Committee Members and any questions arising from the reports, by July 15th.

On July 29th we will send out our final note giving detals of the selected committee members, including officers, and as far as possible the answers to any queries.

Helen Whatnell

Chair, Friends of Holt Island Nature Reserve


Deja-vu – where has she been? A question we have been asking ourselves for the past few weeks.

Last year “our“ swan gave pleasure to many whilst nesting on the Island, on The Waits side, producing a family of 8 cygnets, all of which eventually reached adulthood being a remarkable achievement. Well, she was clearly hiding nearby – maybe in isolation -- and in the last few days (article written May 10th) she proudly presented another batch of 8 cygnets to her admirers at The Waits.

We wish them all well and let us hope they are as successful as last year, and learn to practice social distancing!!

Nigel Sprowell - Friend

swan and sygnets 2020

 sygnets 2020

Photographs © Nigel Sprowell



In early May we were delighted to see ‘our’ swans presenting their new family of eight cygnets. She successfully raised a similarly large brood last year all the way through to adulthood, which was a fantastic achievement. Sadly, however, this year I must report that very recently, and one by one, she lost three of her cygnets, reducing the family to five. These remaining five appear to be growing well (as seen here just over a month later), as were the three that have been lost.

Swan Family June 2020It is not unusual to suffer casualties, albeit they had arguably passed the extremely dangerous stage when they could easily have been predated by corvids (crow family), mink or pike, for example. Alternatively they may well have been predated by foxes, or even otter, or may just have succumbed to illness. Dare I even suggest that maybe they suffered from too much ‘love’ from their admiring public, perhaps by consuming far too much unhealthy bread!

Photograph © Ian Jackson

Like us humans, ducks, swans and all bird life need a balanced diet and too many carbohydrates is not good for them, providing little nutritional value - equivalent to junk food for birds! They need a varied diet - natural plants and insect proteins - to mature properly. It is too easy for ducklings, cygnets and the like to get an easy meal from bread handouts, which may make them reliant and does not encourage them to forage for their important nutrient foods.

It's wonderful to see the ducks and swans with their young and a real joy for the children to be with them and to feed them, and I certainly do not wish to discourage this in any way. But, perhaps, we should just think about what they are being fed. Maybe, reduce the size and quantity of bread, and consider alternatives such as floating duck pellets, crushed biscuits, cereals, oats, bird seed, sweet corn, and even defrosted peas and shredded lettuce leaves – they all go towards providing a balanced healthy diet for our avian wildlife.

This is just a thought for you – and we all I’m sure, wish all our birds well, including of course ’our’ swan family, and so please, please continue to enjoy them.

Note: floating duck pellets can be purchased from Just Cards in Bridge Street.

Nigel Sprowell - Friend


Children and staff from Westfield Junior School in St. Ives just happened to be visiting the Island at the same time as when ITV local news were visiting the Island to film and interview Paul Claydon our Countryside Ranger about the construction of our new boardwalk by our volunteers (watch the VIDEO here).



This year’s floods have caused considerable damage to the older boardwalk non-slip strips, and as a result they will need to be replaced before the Island can be safely opened to the public.

This work would normally be done by our Practical Volunteers under the direction of our Huntingdon District Council Ranger, but given the Government’s recent announcements HDC will not be using volunteer parties at this time. Our Ranger will carry on the work on his own when he can, but we do not know how long the repairs will take. Be assured, we will open as soon as it is safe to do so.

However, in the interests of our visitors’ and volunteers’ safety in the current crisis, when we do open we will not be opening our interpretive centre, the Holt. This is necessary to protect everyone as it is an enclosed space and very difficult to clean thoroughly.


Once the Island is safely opened again you are very welcome to book visits, and we will continue to open and close the Island for you. However, we will not be opening the Holt (for the reasons explained above) and will not be able to offer you volunteers to help. There are a lot of activity worksheets and our Education Pack available on the website to download, for use on the Island.


We’ve been bringing you regular updates from our swans' nest, and we're delighted to report that eight cygnets hatched on the 7th May!

Nigel Sprowell reports: “I have been monitoring our swans' nest since the end of March. It does take time to lay a clutch of eight very large eggs and she does have to leave the nest from time to time and when she does so, the eggs are covered in nesting material, making it difficult to be sure how many there are.

Once all the eggs have been laid, she sits tight to brood them as ideally they all need to hatch at the same time. This, on average, can take up to 34 days. During that time she can appear very lethargic and lonely, as her mate tends to stay away, which can give the impression she has been deserted. He does take turns to brood from time to time allowing her a break but in the main he keeps his distance. Recently this led to a member of the public expressing concern for the health our swan. However, regular monitoring and use of 24 hour surveillance cameras allayed any fears. In fact the male has been seen patrolling the end of the Waits by the main river. It is wonderful that people take so much interest in what is happening on our Island.

I am delighted to say that all 8 eggs hatched on 7th May, in line with the average incubation time. Despite being drenched the very next day, all the cygnets look very well and are now giving lots of enjoyment to the public as the proud mum, and occasionally dad, parade them up and down the river, retiring periodically to the nest for a rest and more photos!

I’m sure we all wish them well”

Please note that the grassy path is now open again.  Thank you all for letting our swan family "nest in peace"!

Did you know? It takes 2-3 weeks to build a mute swan nest, which is a huge mound of material, normally dried grasses and assorted vegetation, sticks and rushes, constructed at the water's edge. The nest is built by the female, while the male supplies the materials.  It takes around six weeks’ incubation (sitting on the eggs) before the cygnets (young swans) hatch, and the cygnets stay with their parents for 4 - 5 months.

swan on the nest with chicks   swan and cygnets
 © Nigel Sprowell    © Les Goodey

cygnets on the nest

© Nigel Sprowell