RETIRED Worcester teacher Marilyn McCarthy has been interested in wildlife, and particularly birds, for many years.

She and her husband John have been members of Worcestershire Wildlife Trust since the 1970s and also members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for a number of years.

But she is far from being just an observer and admirer of our feathered friends – her work with swans on the River Severn in the city over the past four years has now earned her the honour of being named as a Wildlife Hero from the county’s wildlife trust.

She is one of just four people selected by the trust to receive this status. As part of the trusts 50th anniversary celebrations, it is now asking the public to nominate others who have and are making an outstanding contribution to local wildlife.

Marilyn, who used to teach yoga and children with dyslexia, started the Swan Feeding Project four years ago in a bid to provide a more varied diet for the swans at Worcester’s swan sanctuary, which stretches along both banks of the River Severn from the railway viaduct to the cathedral, and involve the community in helping these birds which have become a familiar and much loved feature on the river.

But her interest in Worcester’s swans started a few years earlier when she came across David Atkinson, a volunteer at Bishop’s Wood Swan Rescue, near Stourport.

Marilyn said: “In the winter of 2008/9, David found swans were starving because of the weather. They would normally eat plants but there weren’t any.

“David was feeding them every day for five years and I thought it was amazing. I started helping him and I wanted to widen their diet and I thought the public would help.

“I ordered 6,000 little bags and bought a load of swan food. I put in just over £1,000 to start it off. Some of the money I donated and the rest I got back when the food sold as it went on. Then I started saving up for the next batch.”

Marilyn put the swan food into the smaller bags and went to a number of outlets in the city asking if they would sell it to the public.

They agreed and the specially formulated swan and duck food which floats on the water is now sold at the cathedral shop; Browns at the Quay, Quay Street; Café Severn on the Quay, Grand Stand Road; Café Afloat at Diglis Basin; the little shop in Diglis; Birch Hill Dog Rescue charity shop, Reindeer Court; The Commandery coffee shop and the coffee shop at the Pump House Environment Centre, Waterworks Road, Worcester.

Marilyn has recently started supplying the bags of food for two outlets in Bewdley to sell so that local people and visitors can feed the swans on the river there.

“I just had a gut feeling it would be supported by the people of Worcester and it was a good thing to do. Some of them have started working parties on the swan sanctuary,” she said.

She added that the Boston Tea Party café in Angel Place also has a second-hand book stall which raises money for the swan feeding project.

“If there is enough support from the community and local businesses and people with an interest, we could possibly have a Swan Sanctuary Trust, so it is something that will last into the future and not rely on a couple of people,” said Marilyn.

Prior to the Swan Feeding project, David and Marilyn used to feed bread, donated by Sainsbury’s in St John’s, to the birds.

Marilyn explained: “Another thing that has happened is that David and I used to spend hours breaking the bread and friends and neighbours helped and now we have a couple of sessions in the Sky Lounge at Cripplegate Park with residents breaking the bread.”

Bread is still donated by the supermarket and used to feed the swans in addition to the special swan food and Worcestershire County Cricket Club also provides grass cuttings for swan feed too.

“It is spreading through the community and lots of different people are getting involved,” said Marilyn.

The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s other Wildlife Heroes are Peter Bugg from Fladbury, who has led a group of local residents to restore and manage a small, neglected orchard on the edge of Fladbury village.

Peter has organised work parties, community days and visits from the local primary school and he also volunteers for the Vale Landscape Heritage Trust and leads the Parish Green Charter Group that brings environmental issues to the attention of the parish council.

Paul Allen is another wildlife hero and is the Conservation and Countryside Officer for Wyre Forest District Council. He leads a highly committed team of staff and volunteers who have looked after a portfolio of nature reserves and community greenspaces in and around Stourport, Kidderminster and Bewdley for more than 25 years.

Paul also acts as the council’s biodiversity expert and has championed the protection of wildlife. He has been involved in establishing the Grazing Animals Project, which promotes the use of rare breeds to manage many of the heathlands and grasslands in the north of the county. The service also runs the Young Rangers Club for eight to 14-year-olds to explore nature.

The Bredon Hill Academy, Ashton-Under-Hill, near Evesham, has also been recognised as a Wildlife Hero.

Staff and pupils applied for a grant from the Tesco ‘bags of help’ scheme to renovate their pond and garden. Thanks to hard work of pupils, local villagers and an Environment Agency work party, the pond is full of water and aquatic life. Logs have also been installed to provide seating for an entire class to have lessons outside.

Houses have been installed for birds, bats, bugs, bees and hedgehogs while wildlife cameras and bird hides enable students to monitor the wildlife and they share their results with the rest of the school and local community.

The public is now invited to nominate their own choices for Wildlife Hero status. It could be an individual, group, community, business or school - anyone who has done their bit for wildlife is eligible for nomination.

Rae Howard-Louvaine, senior engagement officer for the trust, said: “We’ve been protecting wildlife and wild places across Worcestershire for the past 50 years but we’d like to celebrate the work that others have been doing to help wildlife at home and in their local communities.

“Perhaps you know someone who has dedicated their garden to wildlife or who builds and supplies nest boxes for their local community green spaces. Maybe you know someone who has mobilised people to turn a neglected public space into a pollinator patch?

“Do you know a group, school or business doing their bit for wildlife? Whoever it is or whoever they are, if they have made a difference for wildlife you can nominate them to become a Wildlife Hero.”

All Wildlife Heroes will receive an invitation to a special award ceremony at the trust’s Lower Smite Farm headquarters. They will receive a certificate to recognise their contribution, a specially commissioned pin badge and they will be added to the trust’s Wildlife Heroes county map.

Nominations can be made online at or via a form, available from Rae on 01905 754919 or