Bewick’s swan under threat from human activity

swans07:50 Tuesday 28th October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Swan numbers are swan diving. That’s right. A rare type of swan that travels over 4,000 miles to spend its winters in Cambridgeshire has seen a huge drop in its population. Bewick’s swans are the smallest are rarest type of swan in the UK, and according to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust they have been affected by power lines, hunting, windfarms and lead poisoning. We can now speak to Emma Brand from the Welney Wetland Centre. How bad is the fall in numbers Emma?
EMMA BRAND: It’s quite a dramatic fall in our Bewick’s swans. We do an international swan count across the whole of their fly-ways, so that’s not only in the UK, but also over continental Europe and Russia, every five years. And we’ve found that more than a third of Bewick’s swans disappeared since 1995 when we then recounted in 2000. So dropped from about 29,000 to 18,000. And our next count is due in January, and we’re a bit worried about what we might find out at that time.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I know that there’s different types of swans that come to Welney. How would we recognise a Bewick’s swan?
EMMA BRAND: Well the Bewick’s swans are the smallest swans. We’ve got three types of swan that are here in the UK. The Mute swans are here all the year round, a nice orange bill. Hooper and Bewick’s swans have yellow and black bills. The Hooper swan, how we tell our visitors is to look for a wedge of yellow. So a triangular wedge of yellow like a wedge of cheese for a Hooper swan, and the Bewick’s have more of a rounded blob of yellow, so like a blob of butter, just at the base of the bill. And then there’s a lot more black on the bill. But they’ve also got the size difference as well.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And this list of things that you think is harming the swan population. Power lines, I can see that. Hunting? Not here in the UK surely.

EMMA BRAND: Well the problem is that there is evidence of illegal hunting, but obviously, with the word illegal, it’s quite hard to quantify.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Here in this country, in Cambridgeshire?
EMMA BRAND: Well throughout their whole fly- range. So all of these threats to them are happening while they’re migrating, and then obviously some of them are more relevant to them here in the UK. So certainly power lines, not being able to see them when they’re flying out at dawn and dusk when it’s not quite light enough. But also picking up spent lead shot in the fields. So people not necessarily shooting them, but obviously the birds picking up grit to grind up their food, and sometimes they can ingest lead shot, which obviously has some quite devastating consequences for those birds.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. And wind farms as well.
EMMA BRAND: Yes, so again structures that these birds might not be able to see if it’s foggy, or if they’re flying to and from their roost site and between that and their feeding ground at dawn and dusk. So we’re trying to raise funds to really look into these threats, and try and come up with solutions to them as well.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Now there’s no doubt the numbers do go up and down. Natural populations do ebb and flow. Are you sure that this is a significant drop?
EMMA BRAND: Well the fact that we’ve done the count across the whole of the migratory range, so we know we’re getting the whole population means that we’ve got a very accurate view of it. Yes we do get fluctuations here in the UK in the winter time. Last winter it wasn’t very cold, so we didn’t get many Bewick’s swans coming across. But we knew that there were lots of Bewick’s swans in Germany and other areas as well. So doing this international swan count is really the most accurate way we can see how our swan numbers are doing.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And what’s the solution? What can we do to help the swan survive?
EMMA BRAND: Well the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Bewick’s swan is a species that we’ve had a long term relationship with. Sir Peter Scott was really the first person to take a liking and really connect with this species. So there’s lots of research that we’ve done. Really we need people to help us to raise funds, so that we can continue to do this sort of work, and continue to protect species like the Bewick’s swan.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Emma, thank you for coming on this morning.