Whooper swan populations ‘grew 30 times faster in UK conservation areas’

Research has shown that whooper swan populations have grown 30 times faster inside conservation areas than outside for the past three decades.

Scientists from the University of Exeter analyzed observations of more than 10,000 whooper swans at 22 UK sites – three of which are managed as nature reserves by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

They said survival rates are significantly higher in protected areas as many swans migrated to unprotected areas due to rapid population growth.

Based on their findings, published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, the researchers said the protective effects of wildlife sanctuaries could cause the wintering whooper swan population to double by 2030.

Study author Dr. Andrea Soriano-Redondo, from the Universities of Exeter and Helsinki, said: “Protected areas are the single most important means of halting biodiversity loss and there is a growing consensus that 30% of the Earth’s surface should be protected by 2030.

“However, the effectiveness of protected areas is not always clear – especially when species move between protected and unprotected areas throughout their lives.

“Our findings provide strong evidence that nature reserves are of great benefit to whooper swans and could dramatically increase their numbers in the UK.”

Whooper swans are normally winter visitors to the UK from Iceland where they spend the summers.

These swans have long thin necks, black legs and black beaks with large triangular yellow spots.

Whooper swans look similar to another species of swan known as miniature swans, but are larger with larger beak markings.

Using 30 years of data, the researchers found that the annual growth rate of whooper swans was 6% inside conservation areas, compared to 0.2% outside of conservation areas.

Measures to support wintering of swans on WWT reserves included fox fences, additional feed, managed roosting and hunting bans.

Whooper swans have long necks, black feet and black beaks with large triangular yellow spots (WWT)

dr Richard Inger, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Penryn Campus in Exeter in Cornwall, said: “This population surge is not limited to the conservation areas – it has resulted in higher population densities, which has resulted in some swans migrating to unprotected areas.

“Young swans were the most likely to do this, which means the benefits of conservation areas spill over to other areas.”

The researchers said protected nature areas, even when they are relatively small and used for only part of a species’ life cycle, can have major impacts on the populations of migratory birds that inhabit them.

David Pickett, Center and Reserve Manager at WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, near Dumfries in Scotland, said: “This study shows how safe havens for wildlife in wetlands, such as those at WWT Caerlaverock, Welney and Martin Mere, can help a species , Survive and Succeed Your traditional homeland is under threat.

“Many wild birds rely on our sites for food and shelter and we are committed to creating and restoring more of the healthy wetlands that Britain has lost so many of in its recent history.”

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