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Ugly ducklings promising future

Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset has the biggest herd of mute swans in the UK Photo: PA

The birth of the first cygnet of 2012 at Abbotsbury Swannery, based on Chesil Beach, in Dorset, has not only brought excitement to staff, but if folklore is to be believed could predict a change of season.Local tradition has it that the Benedictine monks, who owned the swannery and tended the swans 600 years ago, believed the first cygnet signalled the first day of summer.

Yesterday's arrival is much earlier than normal, with cygnets usually hatching in the second or third week of May.

John Houston, general manager of Abbotsbury Swannery, said: "It's nearly a record for us, but not quite, because we have had cygnets arriving earlier in the year over the past decade.

"We are hoping the Benedictine legend is true this year, especially as Dorset has been so battered by floods and torrential rain over the past fortnight.

"It's fair to say we're warmly welcoming the first day of summer."

Staff at the swannery have been keeping a close eye on the progress of the eggs and yesterday afternoon a hole the size of a marble appeared in one of a clutch of eggs.

The sound of cheeping could be heard from the egg and the first cygnet hatched. Overnight four more have joined it and there is just one remaining from the clutch to break through its shell.

Dave Wheeler, who has been head swanherd for the past 30 years, said: "Watching and waiting for the first cygnet to hatch is always a very exciting time for us.

"We know all the swans by sight, so we really feel like we share this special time with them.

"The next two months are really the most exciting as far as visitors are concerned, especially for children."

There are approximately 500 swans and more than 100 nests at the swannery, which is the world's only managed colony of wild mute swans.

The birds return year after year to nest and raise their young and the rest of the cygnets will hatch over the next six weeks.