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28 Feb 2017

I.D. guides issued as swans migrate across Europe

Posted in Latest news

Simple guides to help people identify different swans are being issued across northern Europe ahead of the migration of the rare Bewick’s swan.

The guides have been designed by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) after finding that few people know that not all swans are the same species, or that one species is in danger.

Last autumn, WWT conservationist Sacha Dench flew in a paramotor with the Bewick’s swans on their migration from the Russian arctic to the UK. The people she met along the way generally assumed that swans were thriving. As soon as they heard that the number of Bewick’s swans making this journey has nearly halved, they wanted to help.

The identification guides are available online and easy to share, print or keep on a smartphone so they can be used in the field. They are just one of several measures being implemented following Sacha Dench’s expedition. Speaking from WWT’s headquarters at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, UK, she said:

“I set out to follow the Bewick’s swans’ as closely as I could to see the journey through their eyes, and find out whether we, as conservationists, are missing anything in our efforts to stop their decline.

“I found loads of clues that we’re following up with specific groups and in specific places, but the thing that really struck me everywhere I visited was that people simply weren’t even aware that the small swans – the Bewick’s swans – are a different species. And as soon as they found out and heard that they are in trouble, they wanted to know what they could do to help.

“It seems like a small thing but, multiplied across 11 countries, 4,500km and millions of people, one small change could make the difference. And if it can, it’s worth trying.”

(c) Dominic Heard

(c) Dominic Heard

Other initiatives include:

  • a network of swan champions among people living and working in the remote Arctic, who Sacha met while crossing the tundra
  • information on swans included with hunting licenses issued in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia
  • a collaboration between Danish and Polish hunting groups to trial the use of alternatives to toxic lead shot, as used in Denmark, that will be shared across other countries
  • a collaboration between carp pond managers and conservationists in Poland to manage the ponds to benefit the swans as they pass through on migration
  • a charter agreed by paramotorists and conservationists in Belgium, so that paramotorists can enjoy wetlands without disturbing birds at crucial times of the year. This is a model that can be implemented in other areas where human activity comes into conflict with the swans.
  • The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and their conservation partners in each country also hope that the interest in the swans from Sacha Dench’s paramotor flight will encourage more people to help record the swans’ movements on migration.

Sacha Dench said:

“There are fewer than 18,000 Bewick’s swans left in Europe. We can’t track every individual, but hundreds are fitted with coded plastic rings on their legs, which can be read through binoculars. Currently we have a network of around 20 people who report when they see these marked birds on migration, but that’s not many spread across 11 countries. If we could even just double that number, it would help us implement new conservation measures to help the swans.”

For more information you can visit www.flightoftheswans.org, where you can also follow the journeys of individual Bewick’s swans that have been fitted with GPS transmitters.