One of the best sights in Bristol is the swans flying under Clifton Suspension Bridge. For Rich Rankin - or as he’s better known “the swan keeper” this is one of the most enjoyable things about his job.
Rich Rankin has been Bristol’s swan keeper for the last eight years, volunteering his time with the charity Friends of Bristol Swans.
Every day, come hail or shine, he checks on the swans in the harbour area and feeds them.
He earns his living from running a passenger boat business and thousands of his customers enjoy looking at the birds each year so for Rich looking after the swans is his way of saying thank you.
As he says: “The birds help me earn my living, they’re a attraction to everyone who sees them, it would be poor show if I didn’t put something back in.
“At any one time there can be up to 40 swans on the river but to see the the birds at their best you’ll need to get up at dawn.
“Then you’ll see the wonderful sight of the swans flying into the harbour and hear the wind going through their wings.”
Rich has lived on a houseboat for many years and having the swans wake him up in the mornings for their feed is just one more reason why he continues with this work.
He’s so well known now that people will bring injured swans to him.
But don’t expect Rich to get too sentimental because to date he hasn’t named a single swan.
However, he has a soft spot for a rather bossy and miserable goose which he calls Sylvester.
For Richard, a flock of swans flying under Clifton Suspension Bridge beats a firework display any day and is why he’ll continue to be the city’s swan keeper as long as he’s needed.
Throughout June 2006, BBC Radio Bristol broadcast a series called Through My Eyes in partnership with CSV, featuring recordings of ordinary and extraordinary people who live and work in Bristol.
The sound was exhibited at Watershed and in local libraries, along with specially-commissioned photographs by students from Filton College.
Following the exhibition, the recordings and photographs were put together by Bristol Stories staff and made available on this site.
Thanks to Vikki Klein and Debra Hearne from BBC Radio Bristol.
[Sound of boat engine]
My name’s Rich Rankin. I’m what passes for the Swan Keeper here in the city. I say “what passes” because, at best, I’m a slightly knowledgeable amateur. We inherited the position when the last incumbents moved to the Orkneys. We inherited it by virtue of being next door to where the birds were fed.
The birds help me make my living. There’s no two ways about it. They’re an attraction to everyone that sees them as we go around. I carry passengers around the docks – I run a ferry service here in the docks and a lot of people come down here and part of the visit is a trip around the docks and a quick look at the swans. Well, it would be a poor show really if, having made money out of them, I wasn’t willing to put something back in, so that’s part of the reason I’m happy to be the Swan Keeper here.
[Splashing sounds over boat engine]
Bristol’s always struck me as being a collection of small villages, each with its own identity, and the docks is its own little enclave right in the heart of things, all right it’s very visible, but its very much like a little village – we all know each other and on a morning like this there isn’t a nicer place to be, that’s for sure. I think the docks are at their best, really, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, when everybody’s gone and it’s quiet.
[Sound of banging on a bucket]
“Come on, come on!” Well the noise really, they get used to hearing us do this and, quite often, since we’ve had an extra boat here, they can’t see us feeding them, and they’re not the brightest of birds so we make a noise to give them the idea that somebody’s around and hopefully they’ll come along and feed.
That one looks a bit sorry for himself at the moment. Probably because his mum and dad have kicked him out. This one here’s a male, and as soon as they reach the start of puberty, the cob, or father, their father will actually kill them if they don’t go away.
I think really it’s not just watching them float around in the water that makes them an enhancement for the city, it’s the site of them flying through the docks, without a doubt. For me, a flock of swans flying underneath the Clifton suspension bridge, beats a fireworks display hands down, simple as that.
All photographs not otherwise credited created by Becky Dorney, used under copyright licence.
All sound recording not otherwise credited created by BBC Radio Bristol, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence.