Young swans spell hope for threatened species

Bewick's swans in flight Photo: Colin Butters

Bewick's swans are returning to Gloucestershire for the winter with more young than in more than a decade. The birds, which are a threatened species, have been flying in to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge from their breeding grounds in Russia.

Touching down at Slimbridge Credit: M Hann

Surveys have found 17.6% of the flocks are youngsters compared to 10% over the last 10 years. It is good news for the Northwest European Bewick's swan population which has been in decline since the 1990s.

One pair flew in earlier this month bringing no less than six cygnets with them. Everton, a regular at the reserve, and his new mate, Rovers arrived after a 2,500 mile journey with the largest family of Bewick's Slimbridge has ever seen.

The family of eight is ruling the roost at the reserve Credit: J S Lees

Julia Newth, a Wildlife Health Research Officer, is able to watch the swans from her office window at Slimbridge.

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, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

It is likely that the weather is a factor. There was a particularly cold snap at the beginning of the swans' breeding season in arctic Russia. Conservationists also fear that climate change was behind the earlier fall in numbers.

The WWT provides safe roosting for Bewick’s swans at Slimbridge and its other centres. It also tackles threats to the birds such as pylons and gunshot poisoning.

You can find out more on the charity's website.

Swans mixing with the other wildfowl on Rushy Lake Credit: Colin Butters