Showcasing Action for AEWA Priority Species: Bewick's Swan

Article submitted by Dr Eileen Rees, Coordinator of the AEWA Bewick’s Swan International Expert Group, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, UK

Conservation of the NW European Bewick’s Swan population: the diverse initiatives underway

Bonn, 29 November 2018 - The Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii) is classed as “Least Concern” by IUCN (IUCN 2018), but it is in decline in NW Europe and included as ‘Endangered’ in the European Red List of bird species (BirdLife International 2015). An international single species action plan for the NW European population, adopted by AEWA in 2012 (Nagy et al. 2012), was taken forward by Range States from the swans’ breeding grounds in the Russian Arctic through key staging areas in the Baltic region (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) to core wintering sites (in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Denmark). Main drivers of the decline remain unclear but, in addition to analysing factors influencing population trends, national and international collaborative initiatives aim to reduce known threats to improve the conservation status of the species.

Highlights to date include:

  • Swan Champion Project”, whereby groups interacting with the swans in European arctic Russia (through conservation, tourism, hunting, education, native peoples and government) aim to design and implement materials and activities celebrating Bewick’s Swans and their unique tundra habitat, to reduce the hunting of swans and other protected waterbirds
  • Collaborative research work progressed to determine:
    • Variation in demographic rates (productivity and survival)
    • Population overlap/interchange, particular on whether the increasing number of Bewick’s Swans wintering in Greece originate from the NW European or
    • Assessment of the swans’ food resources, through observations made on the wintering grounds and palaeolimnological analysis of core samples from the breeding range
  • “Flight of the Swans” initiative, in which Sacha Dench flew by paramotor from the swans’ breeding grounds in arctic Russia to a wintering site in the UK, provided a unique focus for raising public awareness about Bewick’s Swans in each country along the migration route
  • National Bewick’s Swan Action Plan for Estonia extended to 2022
  • Continued protection and management of a network of internationally important sites for the swans in all range countries
  • A one-day workshop on implementation of the Action Plan was held by the AEWA Bewick’s Swan International Expert Group during the 6th International Swan Symposium, hosted by the Estonian University of Life Sciences from 16 to 19 October 2019. Discussions reviewed work undertaken to date and priority actions to be taken forward in the next four years

Financial support from sponsors in different countries, and the time contributed by the many people involved, have made it possible to take forward these and future initiatives with the overall aim of halting and reversing the Bewick’s Swan’s declining population. The most recent international census of the species (in January 2015) found a slight increase in numbers for the first time since 1995. We hope that the continuing conservation effort will result in further increases being recorded in the next census (in January 2020) and thereafter.  

Further Information

AEWA International Species Action and Management Plans are one of most vital and practical tools under the Agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of those migratory waterbirds which have been prioritized for coordinated international action. Following extensive and inclusive consultations these Plans are adopted by the Meeting of the Parties and represent the quintessence of AEWA: cooperation across borders for a common defined goal. AEWA International Species Working and Expert groups are subsequently convened by the Secretariat to coordinate and facilitate Action and Management Plan implementation.

The dedicated implementation of International Species Plans often has far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate benefits for the main target species. This includes but is not limited to the restoration and sustainable management of critical sites and wider landscapes, increasing capacity-building and awareness-raising, diminishing illegal killing and ensuring that any use of migratory waterbirds is sustainable as well as providing alternative livelihoods. For more information on how you can support the implementation of AEWA International Species Plans, please contact the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat (Ms. Nina Mikander) or visit the CMS Family Migratory Species Champion Programme website.  

Last updated on 30 November 2018