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15 Jan 2016

Europe’s most endangered swans have their first political champion

South West MEP Julie Girling today became the first ever Bewick’s Swan Champion on a visit to the world-famous Bewick’s swan roost at Slimbridge, headquarters of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

RSPB's Paul Buckley and WWT's Dr Debbie Pain with Julie Girling MEP in Sir Peter Scott's studio

L-R: RSPB’s Paul Buckley, Julie Girling MEP and WWT’s Dr Debbie Pain, in Sir Peter Scott’s studio

She met with WWT and RSPB conservationists to discuss efforts to save the species in the UK and Europe. The number of Bewick’s swans in the population has declined by more than a third since the 1990s.

Bewick’s swans are one of the South West’s best known winter wildlife spectacles, but each year they regularly visit twelve EU countries on their annual migration to and from Russia.

With the EU Directives that provide cross-border protection to Europe’s wildlife currently under review, and MEPs due to vote on the issue next month, WWT and RSPB warmly welcome Julie Girling MEP as Species Champion for Bewick’s swans in the European Parliament.

WWT researcher Julia Newth shows Mrs Girling some of the original drawings from WWT's long running Bewick's swan study (c) Sam Stafford WWT

WWT researcher Julia Newth shows Mrs Girling some of the original drawings from WWT’s long running Bewick’s swan study

Mrs Girling MEP also met with WWT’s Head of Media Sacha Dench, who this autumn will join the swans on their migration back from arctic Russia to Slimbridge, making the entire journey in a paramotor. It’s the first time anyone has attempted to make the journey as the swans experience it. She will rally efforts to conserve the swans in each country they visit.

Mrs Girling MEP said:

Bewick's Swans and Rainbow Tack Piece, MJMcGill

Bewick’s swans at Slimbridge (c) Martin McGill

“The decline of the Bewick’s swan across Europe is a tragedy. I am delighted to be able to support incentives here in the South West which will ensure their survival into the future.

“Currently in the European Parliament work is taking place to ensure the future of this and many other species. We must work across borders to ensure the future preservation of the Bewick’s swan and other migratory birds.

“I am delighted to be a species champion and I wish Sacha every success in her expedition to be part of their migration.”

WWT’s Head of Government Affairs, Richard Benwell said:

“The Bewick’s swans of Slimbridge are such an iconic part the South West’s natural heritage that it’s easy to forget that they’re not just ours. Each year they visit many other countries in Europe on their round trip to breed in the arctic, and it’s vital that we protect them properly every step of the way.

“Europe’s wildlife protections ensure that our actions and the actions of our neighbours don’t harm the natural heritage we share. So I’m really delighted to welcome Mrs Girling MEP as the first ever species champion for the Bewick’s swan.”