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Mute Swans in Great Britain: a review, current status and long-term trends

Abstract

We review the recent history of the Mute Swan in Great Britain and discuss the factors known to be affecting the population. Following a rise in the national population during the 1950s, numbers decreased sharply during the 1960s, and changed relatively little between 1970/71 and 1984/85. However, there has been considerable regional variation in the fortunes of Mute Swan populations during this period, with dramatic declines in some areas. Although several factors were thought to be contributing to such declines, poisoning from the ingestion of lead fishing weights was shown to be the largest single cause of death amongst swans in a number of areas. Voluntary measures to address this problem were initiated in 1982 and culminated in the banning by law of use of lead weights in 1987.

Winter counts were used to investigate the current status and distribution of the Mute Swan in Great Britain and to examine long-term regional trends. The maximum total count reached 12600 birds in January 1990, which compares with an average of 9550 for the previous five winters. However, accounting for birds missed, the population may now number at least 25 000. Peak total numbers have mostly occurred in September, after which numbers remain approximately stable until December and then decline. Patterns of seasonal abundance vary between regions and habitats and these are discussed.

The British population has increased dramatically since 1986/87 and reached its highest level for 27 years in 1987/88. There have been recent increases in most regions with record levels being reached mostly in 1987 or 1988, and there has been growth in the numbers on all habitat types, especially on reservoirs, gravel extraction pits and freshwater marshes. The timing of these increases corresponds very closely with the introduction of legislation against the use of lead fishing weights, and the incidence of lead poisoning is known to have been considerably reduced by such measures.

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Kirby, J., Delany, S. & Quinn, J. Mute Swans in Great Britain: a review, current status and long-term trends. Hydrobiologia 279, 467–482 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00027878

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Key words

  • Mute Swans
  • Great Britain
  • population
  • trends