Swan numbers reach peak

The gatherings of wild swans are censused every year on the Ouse Washes in East Anglia. CREDIT Photo: Sacha Dench (WWT)
The gatherings of wild swans are censused every year on the Ouse Washes in East Anglia. CREDIT Photo: Sacha Dench (WWT)
The International Swan Census at Welney WWT has revealed a peak number of 10,832 Whooper and Bewick's Swans at the reserve.

Numbers of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans on the Ouse Washes are now thought to have reached their peak this winter. The huge numbers of swans are providing wonderful spectacles at the Welney Wetland Centre Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve, on the border of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. 

As part of an International Swan Census, 10,832 swans were counted on Friday 16 January. Staff and volunteers worked together for the count, and record the number of juveniles that have successfully completed their incredible migration to Britain, as well as look out for any of the individuals marked with leg rings or neck collars. The record count for the region is 13,000, from January 2011.

At Welney WWT, the feeding of the swans by the staff and volunteers helps bring these birds close to the main hide while providing the birds with extra winter food, a proximity which has proved very popular with the public.  

The swan feeds at Welney WWT are very popular with visitors, who can shelter from the cold in state of the art hides while still being able to see the birds at close quarters. Photo: WWT.

Louise Clewley, Welney WWT Warden, said: “This time of year is just amazing, with thousands of swans making this area their winter home. It’s a real privilege to go out and monitor these birds, getting a glimpse into their lives. From watching pairs of Whooper Swans bugling to warn others off their food, to listening out for the contact calls of adult Bewick’s Swans, softly talking to their young. 

"They travel such vast distances. One particular Bewick’s Swan named 'Madame Cholet' was ringed in Russia in 2005 and has been spotted in Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands and East Anglia during her annual migration.” 
Throughout the winter, staff and volunteers work together to count the swans, as part of ongoing monitoring work. Through these counts we know that an additional 2,436 Bewick’s Swans arrived in the UK over the colder Christmas period, as numbers there were only 800 earlier in December. Though the species is declining internationally, the numbers are still quite healthy at the WWT reserve.

During the day the swans are busy feeding in the fields on sugar beet tops, waste potatoes and winter wheat, but as dusk draws in they return to the Ouse Washes to roost on the water. This daily routine provides brilliant opportunities to see large numbers of swans gliding down onto the reserve, which can be enjoyed from the comfort of the centrally heated main hide. Special floodlit feeds offer the chance to watch the swans getting their last meal of the day as the main lagoon is illuminated. 

Welney WWT has daily swan feeds at 6.30 pm from Thursday to Sunday every week until Sat 28 February, then they continue until Saturday 8 March at 12 pm and 3.30 pm daily. you can also visit in the morning between 6 -9 am at the WWT's 'Swans awake' events on Saturday 14 and Wednesday 18 February, at £12 per person, though booking is essential.