SEVEN swan eggs were destroyed by Winchester College under licence from Natural England, the Chronicle can confirm.

The licence, which was released to the paper by the government agency, permitted the ‘oiling or pricking’ of the eggs as part of the removal of two swans from the stretch of the Itchen Navigation near Wharf Hill.

Natural England said it granted the licence after the college submitted evidence of several incidents where the cobb was attacking members of the public, animals and boats.

A spokesperson said: “After a careful review of evidence Natural England granted a licence to relocate a pair of swans away from the River Itchen Navigation.

“There had been a number of incidents where a male swan (cobb) was attacking members of the public, animals and boats. And after alternative measures were unsuccessful, the licence was granted to protect people using the Itchen navigation and to ensure the welfare of the swans, by preventing further occurrences.

“We consulted and worked with the Queen’s Royal Swan Marker to ensure that the swans were safely and suitably moved to another area, where they are now being looked after.”

However, nature enthusiasts have accused the college of acting 'immorally' and within its own interests.

People were first alerted to the swans’ disappearance earlier this month after a sign appeared by the stretch of the canal where the two swans had been incubating their unhatched cygnets.

The sign said 'professionals' had moved the swans and their nest to an 'approved alternative habitat' following 'expert advice'.

Winchester College initially failed to confirm whether the eggs had been destroyed as part of the operation. However, reports quickly began to circulate online suggesting they had been ‘oiled or waxed’.

The contentious spot, which is owned by the college, is also home to the Rowing Club’s boathouse. Last year river keeper Mark Sankey put up warning notices on Domum Road and gates within the nature reserve to warn passers-by of ‘aggressive behaviour’ from the male swan.

Ronan Haider, a student at the college, said he himself had been attacked by the swan. In a comment on the Chronicle website, he said: “The swans have caused multiple severe injuries even when the boats were moving away from them. Being a student, I have experienced this first hand. People commenting do not understand the level of aggression the swans have. You shouldn't be disgusted by Winchester college but rather the people who have no care about innocent students.”

But Esme Holding, a retired specialist nurse, insisted the swan’s behaviour had been provoked by college students and staff, and it was only acting to defend its nest.

She said: "I think the college is acting immorally; it is shocking. The whole nest has gone. The eggs were half-way through their incubation and were due to hatch in another week and a half.

“The swan is only defensive when his hen is on the nest. The college says the swan is being aggressive to the public. They put up notices last year saying there was a dangerous swan when actually he wasn’t. He only gets aggressive when the nest is approached and is just doing what a swan does.

“The nest is on college land. They could have simply closed the footpath. The boys at the boathouse could carry their boats further downstream. The boys go past the nest with their paddles. The swan will go to the boathouse and wait for the boats and try to bite their oars, saying ‘go away, this is where my babies are’. He is not vicious he is defending his nest. Things are much worse when the college boys come back.”

Ms Holding, of Parchment Street, said she had previously reported multiple incidents to the college’s headmaster and David Barber, the Queen’s swan marker, including one in June last year when she says she witnessed a college don taunting the cob with a bike.

Hampshire Chronicle: The injury the cob sustained after Ms Holding says it was goaded by a college don last yearThe injury the cob sustained after Ms Holding says it was goaded by a college don last year

The college responded at the time to say it was investigating the matter but it ‘wasn’t aware’ of any aggression towards the swans.

Swan Support, the charity which moved the swans, revealed the female had an injury to her wing when she was removed from the canal - which Ms Holding suspects may have been from an incident with the rowers. The pair were taken to the organisation's base in Slough where they’ll soon be released back into the wild.

Operation director Wendy Hermon said: “The swans are doing well. The female had an injury from which she is recovering and once fully healthy, the pair will be released to a suitable location. We understand totally why local residents are concerned for their welfare and appreciate that the swans have had so many people looking after them and enjoying them.

“Whilst we are not in agreement with the decision, we agreed to take on the removal of the swans as we felt it vital to do so as soon as possible in a professional manner, particularly since the female was sitting on eggs that were no longer viable.

“We see that there is increasing pressure on our waterfowl caused by the upsurge in water sports. It is our opinion that the appropriate bodies should consider how to manage this conflict in a way that is not detrimental to the waterfowl.”

A spokesperson for Winchester College said: “The College has consulted closely with Natural England. All swans remain protected by the Crown, and Her Majesty’s Swan Marker has also been involved in the discussion. The expert advice given to the College was that the best outcome for the swan, as well as for members of the public, would be its safe relocation (along with its pen).

"This operation has now been successfully completed by professionals, and both swans have been moved under licence to an approved alternative habitat. Behaviours of the kind exhibited by the swan in this instance are uncharacteristic and rare. The College will be keen to do all it can under expert advice to support all forms of wildlife on its land and apologises to any members of the public who have been concerned about the swan’s behaviour and welfare.”