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Shocking shotgun attacks on Siberian swans 'in the UK'

By 0 and 0 and 0
05 November 2012


Bewick's swans, the smallest swans to visit UK, seen here in Dungeness, Kent. Picture: greaterkentbirder @ blogspot

Disturbing research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the UK suggests that many of the attacks on the birds are in the UK though they overfly the rest of Russia, the Baltic republics and other European countries before reaching feeding grounds in in eastern England and Scotland. 

Some 7,000 Bewick's swans fly in from Siberia to winter in the UK, but the evidence of significant gun shot pellets has been found, too, in Whooper swans arriving direct from Iceland. 

Julia Newth, a wildlife health research officer with the WWT,  told Scotland on Sunday newspaper she was staggered by the scale of illegal hunting uncovered.

X-rays showed one Bewick's swan - also known as a Tundra swan - had 21 shotgun pellets embedded in its body. 

This swan has suffered a sharp reduction in numbers in recent years despite being protected by law in all countries it overflies, says the experts.

'Both species are completely legally protected in every country they fly through and there should be a zero percentage being shot. It is incredible we have 13.6 per cent of Whoopers and almost 33 per cent of Bewick's being shot,' said Newth.

'It is likely hundreds are being killed - birds that die are not often retrieved. But if we are looking at 33 per cent wounded and still alive you image a great many more being shot dead'.

Bewick's swans come to UK from Siberia

A ban on hunting the Bewick's has been in force in Russia since 1964 and the UK since 1954

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's head of investigations, said: 'It is disappointing that despite international protection, these species still seem to be the target of illegal shooting. 

'While it is impossible to say where these incidents took place, we still hear occasional reports of Whooper swans in particular, being shot in Scotland. I would hope anyone witnessing an incident would report it to the police. We have an international obligation to look after these birds.'

A special report from the WWT report states: 'Among the various threats facing our migratory swans, it is those caused by man that are the most concerning, yet perhaps the least surprising. 

'Bewick's swans, which breed on the tundras of Arctic Russia and the Icelandic Whooper swans are both legally protected from hunting throughout their migratory ranges under national and international legislation. 

'Yet despite this protection, a recent study has shown that many of the swans wintering in Britain carry shotgun pellets in their bodies, indicating that they have been shot at illegally.

'The study used X-rays taken of live birds caught and released at wintering sites in England and Scotland from the 1970s to the 2000s - to detect pellets embedded in their body tissues.'

Some 31.2 per cent of Bewick's had embedded pellets.'

Newth said: 'It's possible hunters are mistaking them in flight for species of geese that can be shot.

'We have established an illegal shooting project involving other conservation and hunting organisations to try and get to the bottom of this.

'The main issue is we don't know where they are being shot, why, and who is shooting them.

'We also want to improve awareness of both species and the threat posed by shooting with communities along the migration routes.

'There could well be people who are just completely ignorant of the legislation and mistake them for other species.

'There could be a whole number of reasons why people are shooting them.

'It is going to be a very challenging project because we are having to cover so many countries and tap into so many different communities along the way.'

Bewick's swans come to UK from Siberia

Bewick's swans in Kirk. Picture: fair-isle @ blogspot

A ban on hunting the Bewick's has been in force in Russia since 1964 and the UK since 1954. 

'The Bewick's swan is a threatened species and a bird of conservation concern because its population is in rapid decline. There has been a 27 per cent decline between 1965 and 2005 when the last census was conducted. Counts since have indicated this decline has continued,'  she said. 

'We are not convinced illegal shooting has been a driver for this decline. One possible reason is poor breeding success. But, with a threatened species in decline we need to remove any unnecessary mortality we can'.

Comments (1)

Shocking shocking shocking
Tom K, Newcastle
06/11/2012 12:59

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