CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Derbyshire Life today CLICK HERE

Wildlife: The beautiful Bewick’s and Whooper swans

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 March 2017

Whooper swan and cygnets

Whooper swan and cygnets

Paul Hobson

Paul Hobson reflects on the recent headline-grabbing journey of Sacha Dench and the beautiful Bewick’s Swan

Bewick's swan in flightBewick's swan in flight

Awareness raising in modern conservation is a vital part of a wide range of strategies that are necessary to help protect wildlife in Britain. However, with the complex and instant media portfolio such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube accessed by the phone in your pocket, it is now getting harder to fire the imagination of the general public. When I studied for my degree in Natural Environmental Science in the 1970s I took part in a few Green Peace stunts and applauded the news-making headlines that saw whaling and global warming brought firmly into the public’s consciousness. Today, conservation groups tend not to opt for the confrontational approach, and look for projects that inspire us so that we use our credit cards or sign a petition to support whichever habitat or species is being highlighted.

There have been many wildlife projects over the last few years. Some have been memorable, others not. However, one that really jumps out is the Wildlife and Wetlands (WWT) ‘Flight of the Swans,’ by Sacha Dench. Bewick’s swans breed in the vast empty tundra of Russia and migrate across Europe to winter in Britain, with significant herds heading for Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Sacha has travelled with the swans, flying 7,000km by paramotor (a motorised hang glider) from Russia to England, crossing the Channel on the 8th December 2016. It was a true flight of endurance and hardship, both for Sacha and the thousands of Bewick’s swans she travelled with. Daily updates on the web and Facebook allowed thousands to follow their epic journey.

So why did the WWT and Sacha invest so much time, money, blood, sweat and tears to bring the story of the swan’s migration to Britain’s populace? Well, over the past 20 years the number of Bewick’s swans arriving in Britain has dropped alarmingly from 29,000 to 18,000. The reasons why are not clear. A lot of research has been focused on their breeding grounds in Siberia but other reasons may have something to do with the annual migration to and from Britain. Sacha’s incredible flight was to gather information along the route and raise awareness of the pioneering research work funded by the WWT.

Bewick’s swans can be seen in Derbyshire, though unfortunately none actually overwinter here. Over the years a few have put in an appearance on Coombes, Staunton Harold and Ogston reservoirs. However, the greatest likelihood of seeing these graceful birds is catching a herd flying overhead, possibly on their way to Martin Mere in Lancashire in late autumn or spring.

Bewick's swan in flightBewick's swan in flight

The naming of plants and animals after a person is now frowned upon by some scientists but personally I love the idea. It connects us with our past and allows us to learn about some of the pioneering personalities who shaped our study of natural history. William Yarrel (author of the popular History of British Birds) named the swan after Thomas Bewick in 1830. Bewick was an engraver who produced a delightful two volume work on British birds illustrated with lovely woodcut images.

Bewick’s swan is also known as the tundra swan because it breeds across a vast area of tundra mainly in Russian Siberia. One of the first Englishmen to discover its breeding grounds was the Sheffield steelworks owner, Henry Seebohm, who visited the valley of the River Pechora in 1875 after a gruelling journey by sledge across the frozen lands of Siberia.

Whooper swans look similar to Bewick’s, and are often confused with them. They both have black and yellow bills and both journey here to spend the winter grazing the fields and wetlands in our mild climate. Whoopers are larger and the yellow extends further down the bill. Whooper swans also breed in different areas, with a significant population in Iceland. Herds of whoopers can also be spotted in Derbyshire, often in March as they return to Iceland from their main winter grounds in the Ouse and Nene washes.

Whilst capturing the public’s attention is definitely more difficult today, with so many competing good causes and stunts, Sacha’s ‘Flight of the Swans’ is certainly one of the most exciting and innovative projects of the last few years. Why not visit the website at www.flightoftheswans.org to read more about her story and the migration of Bewick’s swans. And hopefully you may one day witness a herd of swans winging its way across the Derbyshire skies as they start, or complete, their epic journey.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Derbyshire Life and Countryside visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Derbyshire Life and Countryside staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Derbyshire Life and Countryside account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

A ten-minute drive from the western edge of Sheffield brings thrill-seekers to a Derbyshire valley where outdoor activities are thriving.

Read more

Andrew Griffiths meets Jim Dixon, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Peak District National Park.

Read more

This walk offers a dance with the Dove and a meander by the Manifold, whilst along the way passing a church, castle remains, country houses and a hollow way

Read more

With winter on the horizon, trees glow with colour, migratory birds arrive and house spiders set off in search of a mate

Read more

Ann Hodgkin investigates a case of the sincerest form of flattery… or industrial espionage!

Read more

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s vision is of landscapes rich in wildlife, valued by everyone. They will achieve this 
by pursuing their mission of creating Living Landscapes. Here Julia Gow, the White Peak Reserve Officer at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust tells us about the reserve above the River Wye

Read more

Nigel Powlson visits Sudbury where a shopping courtyard is attracting even more visitors to this quintessential English village

Read more

If you’re walking in the Peak District, the chances are that you could encounter a reservoir at some point during your ramble. There are dozens of resevoirs dotted around all corners of the national park, we pick some of our favourite walks from our archive.

Read more
Peak District

A five-year Heritage Lottery-funded scheme, launched in 2010, was designed to encourage the restoration and conservation of the distinctive landscape character of a large area of north-east Derbyshire.

Read more

Enjoy the wonder of woodland in our glorious Derwent Valley on this park and ride special.

Read more

Paul Hobson reveals some of the fascinating wildlife there is to be found in this month of transition

Read more

From far away constellations to gas clouds, our night skies are bursting with natural wonders – if you know where to look... Viv Micklefield goes stargazing in Derbyshire

Read more

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust works across six Living Landscapes with 46 nature reserves to ensure there is wildlife and wild places for everyone. Reserve officer Sam Willis tells us about one of his favourite places – Ladybower Wood Nature Reserve

Read more

A multi-million pound makeover attracts more leading brands to one of the UK’s biggest shopping destinations

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Subscribe or buy a mag today

Topics of Interest


Local Business Directory


Property Search