When troops shot swans with their machine guns ...

When troops shot swans...
When troops shot swans...

TOWERBIRD told me many years ago in the 1960s, that he once saw troops shooting swans on this stretch of water, using machine guns.

That was in the last war when food was rationed or even unobtainable, certainly in the quantities we have today.

Towerbird was the pen name of Noel Sedgewick, who lived at Pulborough, and was the editor of The Shooting Times. He was the author of several books on shooting and country subjects which I bought when I was a lad trying out my first 12 bore.

One of his favourite haunts was Pagham Harbour and he wrote disarmingly about his adventures on moonlit nights among the creeks and the mudflats, waiting for widgeon or mallard.

He used to snatch an hour or two of sleep on these nights in the graveyard at Church Norton and primed himself first for the night ahead at The Crab and Lobster in Sidlesham. A colourful character is the cliché in a time long ago when people did things differently then.

I was not at all surprised to hear that army lads had emptied a bren gun 300 yards across the meadows and fresh marsh into a herd of mute swans on the Deeps.

Apparently they picked up six birds for the cook-house.

Another person who shot duck there once or twice was writer Ernest Hemingway, seconded to RAF Thorney Island as a war correspondent.

He flew as passenger in a Mosquito which patrolled on the look out for Doodlebugs, the V1 pilot-less rockets which terrorised the South East of England from their launch pads in Holland.

The Mossy pilot may have thrown the aircraft about a bit to see what this tough American was made of for Hemingway said the RAF motto should be changed to Per Ardua ad Nausea.

Today this is just another lovely quiet wetland where nothing much happens as people like me wander along the seawall and look into the reedbeds hoping to see a bearded tit or even a water rail.

Back in the 1960s there was the proposal by the council to sue part of Thorney, Little Deep, as a rubbish tip. Twenty acres were earmarked to a depth of six feet. This was already occurring at Pagham Harbour around Sidlesham and also on Langstone Harbour in the south west corner.

That too today seems as horrible an idea as strafing swans with machine guns: perhaps a lot worse. Fortunately we were able to stop that little idea in its tracks. But the idea has now sprung up again elsewhere.

Boris Island in the Thames estuary to be made into the third London Airport may make sense for the financial industry giving work just as building skyscrapers in New York made sense in the Great Depression for Roosevelt but for water birds it would be like closing Gatwick to humans.

North west European birds need those vast mudflats as their own airport in order to get themselves around the globe summer and winter. Race memory would bring them onto the new runways as well.

Can you imagine trying to keep quarter of a million waders and wild ducks and geese out of the engines of jet liners?

I have a great regard for Boris but this idea of his is a bad egg.

Richard Williamson