Climate change: Fewer wild swans returning to UK in winter–BBC

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By Paul Homewood

Guest post by Ian Magness 

Ian’s Response:

Let’s start with the title “Climate change: Fewer wild swans…”. What we are strictly dealing with here are the numbers of Bewick’s swans. However, that’s not what the title says so lets’s look at the bigger picture. To do this, we must look at the Bewick’s very close relatives the Whooper swans. Certainly in terms to the whole of southern and central British Isles, both birds are strictly non-breeding winter visitors. Both breed in Arctic wastelands and just come here when weather and ground/feeding conditions become untenable in October or November. Both would SURELY follow similar overall population responses to global warming, other factors being equal.

Below is a screenshot from the BTO website. It shows Whoopers gaining in UK winter population hugely in the period 95/96 to 20/21. It is regarded as an “Amber list” (some concern in population) bird in the UK but, globally (IUCN designation), it is of “least concern”. Around 20,000 are believed to have visited our shores in 2015/16 and the number is increasing, with the statistics indicating that the rise in Whoopers outweighs the decline in Bewick’s.

So, what of Bewick’s?  You will note that Briggs claims that “the global population is declining fast”. Really? That’s not what the BTO website tells us – at all. Photo 0474 (also BTO) shows that Bewicks are also of IUCN “least concern”. They are now red-listed in the UK as the wintering population has been declining since around the turn of the century.  The BTO reckons that there are perhaps around 3,500 birds now visiting and this compares to over 7,000 in around 1999/2000 (see photo 0470 from Birds of Wiltshire, 2007). However, it is also notable from Birds of Wiltshire that the UK population was a mere 1,500 or so around 1950. It thus appears that the UK population is still over double that in 1950, despite all that dreadful global warming. Funny the BBC didn’t mention that….

The next BTO screenshot may have the answer to Slimbridge’s population issue. The map shows gains in the east as well as losses in the west. The point is that western Britain is on the edge of the swans’ palearctic range. There we have it yet again – bird populations waxing and waning on the edge of their ranges – twas ever thus.

So, “fewer wild swans”? I don’t think so, just normal adjustments.

What about the late Bewicks’ arrivals this year? The next screenshot has the answer – most of the time, relatively few birds arrive in October. November sees the big arrivals and major variations due to both Arctic and northern European autumnal weather conditions will occur. Off-topic but the summer swifts got hammered in Wiltshire in 2023 due to the abysmal July. Almost our entire population disappeared by end-July – weeks earlier than normal and early-September birds wouldn’t be surprising. So significant weather-related bird migration changes are entirely normal.

Overall, I just don’t buy all this “climate change is to blame for stopping our Bewick’s coming here” nonsense. Historical evidence, as ever, is far more nuanced and shows population distribution p

atterns far from convincingly following global warming, or indeed Keeling Curve, patterns.

Finally, this makes my blood boil:

Kane Briggs, senior research officer at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve, said the “saddest fact” was one day the swans may never return to Britain.

“This is happening right in front of our eyes,” he said. “Climate change is playing its part here.”

ABSOLUTE CRAP on all fronts! Our children will not know what a Bewick’s looks like. File that one with snow.

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