Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Bewick's Swans arrive from Russia

There's an old Russian saying: "The Swan brings snow on its bill". To find out whether this rings true, we sent Brett Westwood to WWT Welney on the Ouse Washes in Norfolk. After having a look round on Monday, Brett was able to confirm that the first Bewick's had indeed arrived.

Report information

The Bewick's usually arrive in the UK by late October however the first Bewick's didn't reach WWT Slimbridge until Saturday 1st November and it wasn't until Monday 3rd November that they were first spotted at WWT Welney in Norfolk. Why were they so late?

To address this question and to discuss the logistics of Swan migration, Brett was joined by Julia Newth from WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). Those Bewick's that have arrived, have just completed a 3,000+ km migration from breeding grounds on the arctic Russian tundra. They fly in flocks down from the top of Russia until they reach the Baltic coast which they follow down into Europe - eventually half of the North West European population will end up here on the Ouse Washes.

The reason they were late in coming? The wind was blowing in the wrong direction - it's as simple as that. So nothing to worry about. Well, this is not strictly true - the Bewick's Swan migration is particularly dangerous. They have two major obstacles to overcome - illegal hunting and wind farms.

Since 2000, 22% of Bewick's Swans that reached the UK had been shot at. Whooper Swans are also targetted but the migration of the Bewick's Swan is over 2000 km longer so its chances of being shot at are larger. Illegal shooting is a political issue that needs to be addressed but how do you protect a migrant that crosses so many national boundaries?

The other obstacle for migrating Swans is the presence of wind farms - due to their size, Swans find it very difficult to outmanoeuvre the blades of these turbines and associated infrastructure such as power lines. The cumulative effect of their impact on Bewick’s Swans has not yet been assessed but 25.7% of adult deaths in all Swans between 1951 and 1989 was the result of flying accidents.

Clearly, the jeopardy of Swan migration is palpable.

Further Reading:

Julia's Bewick's Swan Diary
Last report: Whooper Swans

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy