1. ITV Report

Bumper breeding season for swans in Norfolk

The number of young Bewick swans is the highest for more than a decade. Photo: Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

Threatened Bewick’s swans are returning from their Russian breeding grounds with the most young that ornithologists have seen in more than a decade according to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Surveys of the swans’ UK wintering sites, such as the Ouse Washes at Welney in Norfolk, have found 17.6 percent young among the flocks. This compares to an average of about 10 percent over the last 10 years.

It is welcome news for the Northwest European Bewick’s swan population whose numbers have declined steeply since the 1990s.

“We still need to find out what is driving down Bewick’s swan numbers and reverse this worrying decline, but this year’s good breeding season is very welcome news. This is their best breeding season since 2001 and the higher number of cygnets this year will hopefully boost their numbers."

– Julia Newth, Wildlife Health Research Officer at WWT
An adult Bewick's swan spreads its wings at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Archive

The factors behind this year’s breeding success are not fully understood, due to the remoteness of the swans’ breeding grounds in Arctic Russia. It is likely that weather, particularly a cold snap at the start of the breeding season, is significant and conservationists are concerned that climate change is partly behind the recent decline.

WWT provides safe roosting for Bewick’s swans at WWT Welney on the Ouse Washes, WWT Slimbridge and WWT Arundel in Sussex. As well as coordinating the counts with the RSPB, WWT identifies and addresses threats to the swans along their flyway.

WWT has been x-raying Bewick’s swans for forty years and has found that nearly a quarter have been shot, despite being protected in every one of the countries they fly through.