Having been born and brought up in Pontnewydd I have always had contact with the canal. My mom and dads home is in Glenside in upper Cwmbran and the canal was at the bottom of my garden.
Over the years I’ve seen many, many changes but most upsetting of all has been the vanishing wildlife. Back when I was about eleven or twelve the canal was bursting with life. More frogs than you could ever count, sticklebacks, dragon flies, newts and a million other life forms swam in the canal. The water was clear and the plant life grew well.
As the years went by the frogs got less and less, and along with them went the newts. I would say up until about 1985 if you were lucky you would find the odd pocket of frogspawn. I can remember finding a small patch of it just up above the Top Bridge End pub that year. I took my son Andy along with my new video camera up to see it. I still have the video; I think that must have been one of the last times I ever saw frog spawn in the canal as when I went to the spot a year later about the same time of year no frogs could be found anywhere.
This must have been round about the time someone in their wisdom decided to put an assortment of large fish in the canal for sport. Of course that was the death bell for anything that was left. And within another year the canal was dead of all life. Apart from very large fish and some toad tadpoles that the large fish can’t eat; you’ll find nothing else. Oh on a good day you might see a few dragon flies. Then as a matter of course because the canal became empty of life. Other birds and small creatures that depended on the canal for their food also died. And the larger birds and larger creatures who depended on the smaller ones either moved away or they died too.
Now all we are left with are a few dozen ducks and some swans. Their only source of food being the grass and plants along the canal and the bread and sometimes corn that people feed them with as they swim in and out the rubbish and shopping carts that fill the canal. Some parts of the canal although dead, apart from large fish look like a picture postcard. If you walk the canal above five locks on a summer day it’s very pleasing to the eye. But follow the canal down from five locks and apart from the odd spot the canal is nothing but a rubbish tip. With ducks and moorhens and until last year a lovely pair of mute swans tried to bring up their young in amongst the rubbish and the duckweed that gets thicker and thicker every year.
This brings me to the story of the wonderful pair of mute swans that lived for many years on a small piece of canal in Old Cwmbran. About 1995 I got my first digital camera and started taking pictures of the pair of swans and the families they have had over the years. I’m sure they got to know my camera and me, as they posed for me very often. I have hundreds and hundreds of pictures on my computer and the walls of my home that I have taken. The Swans even had their very own fan club as people who saw my pictures on the internet sent me emails asking about them. I sent them all updated pictures of the young swan family as the grew up. Having talked to some of the locals who have lived near the canal for many years I was told that back when the canal was in use they had at least fifteen to twenty pairs of swans nesting on that part of the canal at any one time, and that my swans as I liked to call them where the only ones left out of all the swans that nested there.
Well that was until last year, when a thug decided they had lived there long enough, and smashed the male swans head in with a brick, leaving the poor female to sit her eggs alone, This she did for some weeks. The local people in their kindness fed her and gave her water as best they could. Then about a week before the eggs were due to hatch a dog or maybe a fox, myself I think a dog as I have never seen any foxes in that part of town, attacked her on the nest ripping out her tail feathers. She must have fought very hard but gave up in the end. She was found the next morning in a bad way. Swan rescue was called and she was taken away. I found out a few weeks later that she had died of shock. What became of the eggs I have no idea. Money was collected and a substantial reward was offered, but the thug or thugs have never been found. The people or person’s who killed that swan took something very special from Cwmbran that night. That can never be replaced. Every day young mothers took their children down to feed the swans and the older generation who had been doing it since childhood made a point of getting up every morning and going down the canal to feed them. And remember the old days when that bit of canal buzzed with life.
It’s a sad fact but no more swans will ever visit that part of the canal even if the female swan had lived she would never have gone back as the male swan picks the nest site. My message to the person or person’s who killed my swan, remember this old but very true saying, WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND!
by Dennis T Baker
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015