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30 Oct 2018

First Bewick’s swan returns to the UK heralding the arrival of winter

Posted in Latest news

The first Bewick’s swan of the season has landed at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, having surfed the weekend’s first blast of winter winds from the Arctic.

The bird, known as Indri, is making its third visit to the famous reserve, after arriving as a cygnet in 2016. Experts have identified her using the unique pattern on her bill.

The appearance of the swan marks the start of a celebrated period for Slimbridge, which hosts around 30,000 migratory birds every winter. Staff hope there will be an influx of Bewick’s swans over the next few weeks, as the mercury dips even further.

Steve Heaven, Swan Research Assistant, said:

“We’re proud to have Bewick’s here at Slimbridge and we’ve seen some of the birds return to us each winter for 29 years!

“Winter is a magical time to visit Slimbridge as hundreds of ducks, geese and swans arrive at Slimbridge, including the beautiful Bewick’s swans, white-fronted geese, pintail, pochard, tufted duck, gadwall and teal”.

Bewick’s are small white swans with black and yellow bills. Every winter they navigate some 4000km to the UK to escape the arctic winters of Russia. They can be found in large numbers on the Severn estuary and in eastern England.

Sir Peter Scott the founder of WWT dedicated much of his time to watching and studying Bewick’s swans. He was the first person to notice that each bird has a unique bill pattern making it possible to identify individuals.

Slimbridge can host up to 200 Bewick’s swans from late October to early March. They can be seen on the grassland areas of the reserve during the day and in the evenings they congregate outside the Peng Observatory where they are fed at 4pm.

However fewer Bewick’s swans are returning each year.

Recent studies show that since 1995 the number of Bewick’s swans making the migration from arctic Russia to northern Europe has plummeted by nearly a half – from 29,000 to just 18,000 recorded in 2010.

Conservation scientists have been studying the Bewick’s swan for the last fifty years, making it the longest study of any species of bird in the world. Their research has identified some of the threats that Bewick’s face including loss of their wetland habitat, illegal hunting, climate change and hazards in their flight path such as wind turbines and power pylons.

Steve added:

“We hope that by giving visitors the chance to see Bewick’s swans close-up and in large numbers from our comfortable Peng Observatory that we are inspiring them to help protect this species for future generations”.

Swan Lake at Slimbridge is perfectly maintained so that the swans have a place to recover from their long and arduous trip. The wardens feed them three times a day and ensure that they are kept safe over the winter. This is supplementary to their natural diet of grasses, cereal crops and aquatic vegetation.

They are able to take care of these marvellous animals because of the generous support from Postcode Animal Trust, a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, whose funding helps make their stay as comfortable as possible.

For an extra special experience visitors are invited to access Slimbridge after hours and witness a spectacular commentated floodlit evening swan feed followed by a delicious two course meal with tea, coffee and mints. Our Swan Supper Evenings run every Friday and Saturday evening from 30 November to 9 February.