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Climate Change Threatens Bewick's Swans As Winter Arrivals Decline

The iconic sight of Bewick's swans gracefully descending upon Slimbridge in Gloucestershire for the winter is becoming increasingly rare, and scientists warn that climate change is altering their behaviour, impacting their migratory patterns.

This year's arrivals, notably a bonded pair named Maisie and Maifield, mark a stark contrast to the bustling flocks that have been monitored since 1965. The annual influx has dwindled from 700 to just over 100, signalling a concerning trend for the smallest of the UK's wild swans.

Kane Brides, senior research officer at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve, expressed concern over the diminishing numbers and highlighted the possibility that, one day, these majestic swans may cease to return to Britain. "This is happening right in front of our eyes," Brides stated, emphasizing the role of climate change in this phenomenon.

Hans Linssen of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology explained how rising temperatures are influencing the swans' behaviour. In the past, colder winters prompted the swans to travel to Britain for a more comfortable climate. However, with the current trend of warmer winters, the swans now find suitable conditions in Germany and the Netherlands and often choose not to continue their journey to England.

"The saddest fact," according to Linssen, "is that they may never return to Britain."

This alarming shift in behaviour is not the only threat Bewick's swans face. The global population is rapidly declining due to deliberate killing, lead poisoning, and the loss of wetland habitats. The situation is exacerbated by the record-breaking temperatures experienced this year, impacting various species from jellyfish to birds.

The Slimbridge study, initiated by Sir Peter Scott 60 years ago, is one of the longest-running singles-species studies globally, with over 10,000 swans recorded. Each year, the swans' arrivals are meticulously documented, providing valuable insights into the impact of climate change on wildlife.

As the world grapples with the consequences of a changing climate, the fate of Bewick's swans serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for global action to address the environmental challenges threatening the survival of various species.

Image Credit : SWNS


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