WWT celebrates 60 years of Bewick's Swan study


The WWT's unique Bewick's Swan Bill Pattern Study is celebrating its 60-year anniversary this winter.

The study began when founder Sir Peter Scott realised the potential research value of being able to identify individual swans returning to spend the winter at WWT Slimbridge using just their unique bill patterns.

These observations were formalised into a scientific study which has been repeated every winter since 1963. As they arrive in the UK from Arctic Russia on their annual 3,500-km migration, every adult swan that visits Slimbridge is given a name and their bill pattern is logged, allowing researchers to follow the long lives of each bird and the dynasties of swans that came before them.

The WWT's Bill Pattern Study turns 60 this winter (WWT).

Up to 200 swans are newly identified each year, with WWT scientists having identified 10,000 individual swans throughout the course of the study.

Believed to be the longest single-species study ever undertaken, researchers have monitored breeding success as well as observing some unusual behaviours, such as pairs of swans, usually renowned for their lifelong partnerships, ‘divorcing' and later returning with new mates.

Each individual arriving at WWT Slimbridge is named and has its own fascinating story. Whether it's 'Casino', one of the founding members of the ‘gambling dynasty' who lived to 27 years old and produced 34 cygnets, or 'Sarindi' and 'Saruni', who unusually divorced but returned happily with new partners, or 'Turlach' and 'Tramore' and their cygnets, who are the family that rules the roost at Slimbridge.

Dr Julia Newth, Ecosystem Health and Social Dimensions Manager at WWT said: "Having watched the Bewick's return to Slimbridge year after year, this study has a special place in my heart. Every year when the first swan touches down, it feels like seeing old friends again.

"Each new year brings a new generation and new findings that update the study to show in real time what is happening to these swans, and engages people in wanting to protect them from the ever-growing threats they face – from the loss of healthy wetland habitats along their migration routes, climate change, illegal hunting and lead poisoning."

This year saw the first Bewick's Swan touch down at Slimbridge on 16 November, the latest arrival since 1965, as the species visits Britain in ever-decreasing numbers.