Twenty years ago, before I moved to Somerset, a flock of Bewick’s swans would spend the winter months on the moor near my home.
Elsewhere on the levels, flocks of several hundred could be found. Yet in the years since I have lived here, I have seen these elegant birds just a handful of times.
The smallest of Britain’s three species of swan has vanished from many of its former haunts; fewer than 5,000 birds now make the journey here each autumn from their breeding grounds on the Siberian tundra.
We only need to look at the current weather maps for eastern Europe to discover one reason why their numbers have fallen.
Records for winter temperatures – nighttime and daytime – are being shattered, in some cases by more than double figures.
With such mild weather, and a lack of ice and snow meaning that food is easily accessible, many Bewick’s swans are staying put on the other side of the North Sea.
However, this unprecedented winter weather is only half the story.
Breeding populations have plummeted during the past few decades, due partly to hunting, but also because of changes in their habitat caused by the climate crisis.
A bird that was once a common sight in Britain and neighbouring countries is at risk of disappearing completely from Europe over the next few years.
This article by Stephen Moss was first published by The Guardian on 19 January 2023. Lead Image: Bewick’s swans were once a common sight in Britain. Photograph: David Tipling Photo Library/Alamy.
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