Free Swan Researcher Workshops with WWT Welney

logosWould you like to become a trained volunteer with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust? Look no further!

 

As part of the WWT Welney Wetlands Centre’s project within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnerships scheme, called ‘Species Identification & Monitoring’, a series of workshops are now being organised so that you can also become a trained swan researcher – join the WWT Welney at 21 or 22 November:

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Or download the poster here: Swan ring reading workshop 1

 

Related posts:

 

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50th Swanniversary!

LogosThe Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is celebrating its 50th Swanniversary!

This is the celebration of 50 years of successful research on the Bewick’s swans, one of the WWT’s iconic animals.

Sir Peter Scott’s great idea

The study started on 11 February 1964 when the conservationist Sir Peter Scott started painting the swans on the lake outside his window, close to the salt marshes near Slimbridge.

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Bust of Sir Peter Scott, founder of the WWT, at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

He noticed that the swans can be recognised individually as they each have a unique bill pattern of black and yellow markings. He meticulously recorded each swan that visited.

He appreciated that natural markings could be used as a powerful tool for the study of the migratory Bewick’s swans. Scott’s research has formed the basis for a very unique study which has grown into an important international population study in a collaboration that continues to this day.

As a result of the collaborative studies, the Nenetskiy National Nature Reserve in Russia, an important breeding area for the swans, was also given protected status in the 1990s.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s Swans: original 1960s drawings as recorded by Sir Peter Scott. Source: https://www.wwt.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/bill-patterns.jpg

Even though more traditional tagging of the birds and – more recently – GPS tracking are also used in the study of the Bewick’s swans, the bill pattern recognition is still of utmost importance in this study – all down to Peter Scott’s original idea.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s swans. Information panel at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Swanniversary celebrations at WWT Welney Reserve

This Wednesday I was invited for a celebratory event at WWT Welney Reserve. Besides the delicious muffins in the WWT Welney café (do try them!) we were also treated with informative presentations from the WWT’s Chairman Sir George Russell; The Centre Manager at WWT Welney, Leigh Marshall; the Head of UK Waterbird Conservation, Eileen Rees; and Dafila Scott, WWT Vice President (who is Sir Peter Scott’s daughter). Dafila explored her personal memories of her childhood at Slimbridge, how she helped to paint and name dozens of swans, and her subsequent life-long interest in swan migrations and family patterns.

Recent changes at the WWT Welney Reserve

Leigh Marshall gave an overview of all the major, positive changes that the WWT Reserve has seen in just the last six years, since the new eco building was erected: two new hides, almost all footpaths having been resurfaced and made more accessible, and a dragonfly pond has been installed. In addition only in the last few years new land has been acquired to the east of the reserve centre: Lady Fen and Bank Farm, together accounting for c 200 ha of new wetland.

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Lady Fen to the east of WWT Wetland reserve centre, hugely important for swans and wader birds. Source: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/dont-miss/lady-fen-and-bank-farm/

Currently, works are taking place to convert the adjacent 100 ha of former farmland into wetland; a new hide is also planned. Although still very much developing, these new wetlands have already proven to be vital for such rare wader species as the Black-tailed gotwit of which 45 of the 50 UK breeding pairs breed at the Welney Washes [More about this great story in a separate post to come].

The future of the Bewick’s swans

Bewick’ swans numbers have gradually grown until they peaked in 1995 around 30,000 internationally. since then, there has been a rapid decline in numbers: currently there are only c18,000 Bewick’s swans left in the world.

In order to counteract this decline, international efforts have been stepped up: the last few years saw, for instance, the production of an international Bewick’s swan Action Plan which will be implemented over the next few years. This Action Plan has been drawn up with conservation colleague in numerous countries, including The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia, and was adopted by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement in 2012. It is hoped that, through combined efforts, the population will reach healthy numbers again in the future: the aim is to halt the decline and maintain the population at 23,000 birds or above.

Changing weather patterns: lower numbers of Bewick’s swans at Welney

One of the changes that have been affecting the Bewick’s swans is the rapidly altering weather pattern we have been experiencing lately. With milder winters, fewer birds migrate all the way to the UK to overwinter, from their breeding grounds in Siberia.

As a result, this winter the lowest number of Bewick’s swans have been recorded at Slimbridge since 1965. At the Ouse Washes, where most of the UK Bewick’s swans congregate in the winter, this year has also seen a record-low number of c1,000 only whereas in a ‘normal’ year c5,000 turn up.

As a result of the internationally co-ordinated research we know that this winter many birds did not migrate any further than Germany: also The Netherlands, usually the last ‘stop’ before Bewick’s swans move on to the UK have seen record low numbers: whereas the Netherlands usually is host to 70% of the total Northwest European population they have only counted 4,800 Bewick’s swans this winter, down from the usual c13,000.

All of this may not be as bad as it seems: as the birds do not have to fly as much and do not experience harsh weather this winter, the birds are likely to remain stronger and thus, when back in Siberia in their breeding grounds, may actually turn out an above-average numbers of young. We will find out next year…

Further information

For further information about the Swanniversary, also see the following links:

 Related posts:

Upcoming events in and around the OWLP area

LogosThere are several interesting events in and around the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme area which I thought people might be interested in hearing about:

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WWT Welney’s swan feeds. Source: http://www.caravanclub.co.uk/

WWT Welney: Not only are the ever popular winter swan feeds back on the menu (see here for the scheduling of the regular, daily feeding sessions) , this Saturday and Sunday (16 & 17 November) will also see a special event, the ‘Festival of Swans’, with wildlife photography courses, storytelling, face painting, ‘guides in the hides’, nature detective walks and much more – see here for the full programme.

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Famous Fenland site Flag Fen. Source: http://pryorfrancis.wordpress.com

At the Brook in Soham the famous archaeologist Francis Pryor will give a talk this Friday evening, 15 November (18:30 – 21:00), about the ‘Mysteries of the Fens’. See here for further details. Francis writes:

The Fens are seen as a once-wet wilderness where the people have webbed feet and yellow faces, living in mud cottages and living off eels. In short, the reputation of the Fens is grim and bleak. The reality was altogether very different. In the Middle Ages the area was prosperous, largely due to the wool and textile trade, which is why it still boasts some of the finest churches in the land. The Fens have also produced vast quantities of Bronze Age metalwork, and the huge hoard of Iron Age gold from Snettisham is unrivalled anywhere in Europe

Mike Petty alerted me to the new series of Fenland History on Friday lectures, held in Ely Library from 10.30 to noon  every Friday throughout this winter; £2,50 on the door:

  • November 15: David Rooney, Henry Morris and the fight for the countryman’s college. The fascinating account of one man’s struggle for education for all, and the betrayal of his ideal.
  • November 22: David Edwards, Something about Gravestones. Some gravestone mainly in the March/Chatteris area which are either interesting in themselves, or the manner of the deaths of their occupiers, or their lives, from a boxing champion to a Major General.
  • November 29: Philip Saunders, Fen Drainage archives – documenting fenland’s past. A unique insight into the original sources for fen drainage available in Cambridgeshire’s Archives.
  • December 06: David Barrowclough Ely: the hidden history – the latest archaeological discoveries.
  • December 13: David Taylor, The Lancaster Bomber and Witchford Airfield – the new book.

For more details, contact Mike Petty – 01353 648106 or mikepetty13a@gmail.com

Also this Friday 15 November, a Lecture organised by the Ely branch of the local Wildlife Trust BCN, Fenland: That sinking feeling, by coastal ecologist Dr Pat Doody. 7:45pm – 9:30pm at Ely Museum. For further details, see here.

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On-going exhibitions about ‘Fenland, Lives & Land’ can be seen in the area’s many museums. For more information about the five travelling exhibitions, see here. See also this previous post.

Migration Stories: Wintering Birds at Welney

Heritage Lottery FundFollowing on from my previous post, I did go to Welney Wetland Centre on Saturday to find out what was going on for World Wetlands Day.

The midday swan feeding session was, I was reliably told, certainly not as it turns out normally. Where only a week ago there was dry land, this had now turned into a choppy and rather deep lake, coming right up to the base of the main observatory.

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Sam Lee, WWT’s Public Engagement Officer feeding birds in rather high waters

I felt sorry for Sam Lee, the Public Engagement Officer at the Welney Wetland Centre who carried out the swan feeding this time: she was in quite deep water, meanwhile miraculously keeping a wheelbarrow afloat whilst also skillfully feeding the birds. Despite the difficult circumstances she did a great job. See also this news item in the Cambridge News

Due to the choppy northwestern beating against the shore, fewer birds showed up than would normally have been the case. We were nevertheless treated at several hundred Pochards and tens of Swans. In addition, a couple of Cormorants flew by and a Marsh Harrier was busy hunting in the distance. I am sure that people with the right gear spotted many more species – loads of bird species are being recorded at Welney throughout the year.

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Wheelchair access paths have been temporarily suspended at Welney- the swans don’t seem to mind

The Ouse Washes hold the UK’s largest roost of Whooper and Bewick’s swans. These birds have gone through incredible migrations from their breeding grounds in Iceland (Whooper Swans) and Arctic Siberia (Bewick’s Swans) to arrive at their winter refuge. In a good year, up to 5,000 Whooper swans and 3,000 Bewick’s swans make the Ouse Washes their seasonal home.

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Plenty of Polchards around

The Ouse Washes support numerous wintering and breeding bird species. The area is well-protected through several designation systems: not only are the Ouse Washes a Ramsar site, as explained in the previous post,  it is also an SPA (Special Area of Protection), a designation focusing specifically on birds; SPAs form an important element of the European Natura 2000 network. Furthermore, it is designated by the national SSSI designation (Site of Special Scientific Interest). If you would want to know more about these designations, look here for the information on the Ouse Washes SSSI and look here for information on the Ouse Washes SPA.

The fact that the Ouse Washes are so well protected, both nationally and internationally, does not necessarily mean that it all works perfectly fine. In fact, only 19% of the Ouse Washes SSSI is deemed to be in ‘favourable condition’ or ‘unfavourable, but recovering condition’. See for all stats on the condition of the Ouse Washes SSSI here. The Government’s Public Service Agreement (PSA) target is to have 95% of the SSSI area in the UK in favourable or recovering condition. The 19% for the Ouse Washes compares with the current 94% for all East of England SSSIs taken together.

The reasons why most of the Ouse Washes SSSI is deemed unfavourable are multiple and complex. It is something I will be reporting on over the next few months in various future posts.

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World Wetlands Week

Heritage Lottery FundComing Saturday, 02 February, is World Wetlands Day. This is part of World Wetland Week, which runs from 01-05 February.

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World Wetlands Day 2 February 2013 – http://www.ramsar.org

Although these days every week seems to have been nominated for a particular theme, I nevertheless thought it important to draw your attention to this one. On this day 42 years ago the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention was adopted. The Ramsar Convention has as its mission “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. The main aim for individual governments is to maintain the ecological character of designated wetlands and to plan for their “wise use”, or sustainable use.

The Ouse Washes forms the majority of the Ouse Washes LP area, as can be seen in this map. The Ouse Washes (designated Ramsar site) forms one of the UK’s most important wetland areas, so dramatically photographed as seen in my previous post.

The site is designated as it is one of the most extensive areas of seasonally-flooding washland of its type in Britain.The site also supports a diverse assemblage of nationally rare breeding waterfowl associated with seasonally-flooding wet grassland. In addition, the Ouse Washes holds relict fenland fauna, including the British Red Data Book species large darter dragonfly Libellula fulva and the rifle beetle Oulimnius major. The site also supports several nationally scarce plants. Further reasons why the Ouse Washes are designated can be found in this document.

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Ouse Washes seen from the air, looking north towards Welney

The Ouse Washes is one of England’s 71 internationally designated Ramsar sites. Look here for an overview of all Ramsar sites in England. Further information about the criteria to understand why these sites are designated can be found here.

So, what’s happening on World Wetlands Day in the Ouse Washes? Of course, the RSPB reserves at Fen Drayton, Ouse Fen and Ouse Washes can always be visited, but a specific programme has been set up at the Wildfowl & Wetland’s Trust’s Welney Wetland Centre. For Welney’s full-day programme for this Saturday, look here. Activities are planned throughout the day, and include wild swan feeds, walks with the warden to see brown hares, a sustainability tour of the visitor centre, and a wetland-themed poetry workshop. See you there!

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Flooded Ouse Washes, Spring 2012