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A herd of Bewick’s swans who began their epic migration from the Slimbridge Wetland Center in Gloucestershire to the arctic tundra have returned to avoid the latest “Beast from the East”.

Conservationists at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust found that of 20 birds that targeted north last week, 12 had reappeared four days later. 11 had previously left Slimbridge with a new Bewick swan, which the staff has now named Darcy.

Every year Bewick’s swans fly 4,000 km to the UK to escape the harsh Russian weather and return to breed in the spring. They are encouraged to leave by the extended days, but rarely need to break off their journey, a behavior known as “migrating back”.

WWT Research Fellow Kane Brides said: Arctic migrants like the Bewick Swan are used to cool weather and very adaptable to the extreme climate. However, freezing conditions reduce food availability and snowstorms reduce visibility for migration. With the east wind direction against them for their onward migration to Russia, they are very sensible to suspend! The Bewick Swans at Slimbridge are lucky enough to have a comfortable B&B where they can take shelter until the cold is over.

Bewick’s Swans, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The Slimbridge reserve is perfectly manicured so that the habitat is just right for the visiting swans. They are fed three times a day by the reserve guard staff who also make sure they are safe over the winter.

The Slimbridge Bewick swans are the subject of one of the world’s most intense wildlife studies. WWT experts can identify every single swan by the unique pattern of yellow and black on its beak. The study, started by WWT’s founder Sir Peter Scott, has been running continuously for over 50 years and has recorded the life histories of nearly 10,000 swans during that time.

Since the early 1960s, WWT has expanded its swan research over the decades, joining forces with researchers from across the range of migrant swans in Northern Europe and Russia. Together they have succeeded in ensuring international protection for a chain of wetlands that are vital for swans to feed and rest.

The number of northwest European Bewick swans has decreased by a third in recent years, and there are fewer than 21,000 left.

Bewick’s swans are endangered in Europe and protected from hunting by law in every country they fly through. Even so, a third of the live birds that have been caught and x-rayed by researchers carry shotgun pellets.

WWT works with scientists, hunters, indigenous groups and young people to protect the birds from illegal hunting on their migration path.

For more information on this project, Swan Champions, please visit https://www.wwt.org.uk/our-work/projects/swan-champions/.