Norfolk Biodiversity

Beware the Bewick’s Swansong

Swans. Creatures of beauty and endless grace.

How much do we really know about swans? Can we differentiate one breed of swan from the next?

Pressingly, what happens when one particular breed’s population declines at an alarming rate?

Well, with the winter drawing near one of the rarest breed of swans in the UK will be setting sail for their annual stay in West Norfolk.

The Bewick’s Swan – One of the rarest species of swan.

Copyright WWT

Bewick’s Swan – Copyright WWT

The Bewick’s Swan breeds all around the world but particularly the Northwest European population spends its summers in Siberia.

And when the winter draws near some of the swans move to the Netherlands and Germany, with some in Denmark, Sweden Belgium and France!

Most of the Bewick’s Swan situate themselves right here in the UK for the winter.

You are most likely to find them in places such as Martin Mere (Lancashire), Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) and here in West Norfolk – The Ouse and Nene Washes (Cambridgeshire).

The Ouse washes are so popular to the Bewick’s Swans that up to 33% of the whole of the North West European population make their home there!

What makes the Bewick’s Swan so rare?

Quite simply – The Northwest European population has declined by more than a quarter since the mid 1990’s, making the Bewick’s Swan a conservation priority!

At the peak of their population, the Bewick’s Swan had strength in numbers.

There were 29,000 Bewick’s Swans in 1995.

Recent figures have shown that as of 2010 the population had dropped in dramatic fashion – 18,000 swans.

This is where the Wetlands for life (WWT) campaign steps in.

The WWT campaign will determine the main factors contributing to the declining species, paying close attention to the Bewick’s Swan’s breeding and survival success.

WWT will also further the development of research and conservation work designed to identify the limiting environmental factors while improving the conservation status of the species – which sits precariously in amber status!

What can we do? Participate in the International Swan Census taking place January 17/18th 2015. The census aims to estimate the size and population of each species of swan while identifying the key sites in winter which the swans take stock.

So count the Bewick’s Swans. Sounds simple right?

Well for some it may very well be a walk in the park.

For others, not so much.

The Bewick’s Swan looks very similar to the whooper swan.

Copyright WWT

Whooper Swans – Copyright WWT/ Ernest Duscher

A quick look at the two species’ beaks and you can see the difference – but that’s not easy to spot unless someone’s told you exactly what to look for!

The Whooper swan has a long, pointed wedge of yellow extending about three-quarters of the way onto the bill tip. – The majority of the bill looks yellow.

Bewick’s has a shorter bill with a more rounded or squarer patch of yellow that covers just the basal half of the bill.

Hopefully this helps! Copyright - birdwatch.co.uk

Hopefully this helps! Copyright – birdwatch.co.uk

Of course the census is not looking only at counting the Bewick’s Swan, but it is the perfect opportunity to keep tabs on the swan and hopefully provide enough information to help the conservation of the species in the future!

To find out more about how WWT are helping the conservation of the Bewick’s Swan click here.

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About Dale Benton

Football fan. Cyclist. Slight geek. Communications at Norfolk County Council. Yorkshire.

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This entry was posted on November 6, 2014 by in Norfolk's Wildlife and tagged , , , , , .

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