Littlehampton’s volunteer lifeboat crew responded to a somewhat unusual incident at the weekend when they assisted a swan in distress after fishing equipment became lodged in its throat.

The crew of the lifeboat station were out on their usual Sunday morning exercise when they came across the large white swan in distress on the River Arun. And on closer inspection the bird had apparently swallowed some fishing bait, which the crew suspected had a hook attached, therefore lodging in its throat.

Given the bird was in some distress, the lifeboat crew wasted no time in attempting to rescue him from the muddy banks of the river, eventually getting him back to shore and handing him over to the RSPCA.

Volunteer lifeboat crew member Jon Maidment explained more: ‘It was a pretty standard Sunday exercise; we launched both inshore lifeboats and as it was a low water exercise we planned to stay in the mouth of the River Arun and not go out to sea. That’s when we saw the swan.

‘He was clearly in major distress, and when we got up for closer inspection we realised he had swallowed part of a dogtail fish that somebody had obviously cut in half in order to fashion into fishing bait. Given the amount of blood and the fact something was lodged in his throat, we assumed the fish was attached to a sharp hook which had gotten lodged.

‘We decided to try and get him to shore but he gave us a real run-around – clearly not wanting to be caught.’

Jon said the swan, whom they affectionately nicknamed ‘Sammy’, swam across the river to the moorings of Arun Yacht Club, and into the very deep mud which had been exposed by the low tide. Crew members from both inshore lifeboats tried to pin the bird down in the mud, but Jon said it was very difficult as Sammy was clearly distressed. The crew were absolutely, totally covered in mud,’ said Jon, ‘filthy dirty. But, undeterred, they eventually got hold of the bird and brought it in.

‘Fortunately, someone working at the riverside restaurant, the Look and Sea Centre, keeps a ‘swan bag’ on the premises, because they’re no stranger to seeing swans in distress round here. It’s basically a bag with handles and Velcro straps that allows you to wrap a large bird or duck in, folding in their wings to stop them harming themselves. We put the bird in, taped him up, and handed him to a local RSPCA inspector from Brighton, whom someone at the station had made contact with.’

Since Sunday, the RNLI lifeboat crew have been informed that despite the injuries to the throat and the distress he was in, Sammy survived Sunday night and underwent surgery on Monday afternoon to remove the foreign object from his throat and repair the wound. It turned out that a long length of tangled fishing line had become lodged, not a hook as originally suspected.

Thankfully, the crew have since learned Sammy is to be handed over to an animal charity while he recuperates, and should be released back into the wild within a matter of days.

Jon said: ‘As lifeboat crews we’re trained to save lives at sea. Usually its humans we assist but there was no way we were going to leave an animal in distress. Thanks to our first class training, and thanks to the sympathetic animal lover at the local restaurant who keeps the swan bag handy, we were able to bring about a happy ending for our little Sammy. Everyone at Littlehampton RNLI wishes him a speedy recovery.’