The UK's smallest and rarest swan has suffered an "alarming crash in numbers", the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has said. According to the Slimbridge-based charity, more than a third of Bewick's swans have disappeared since 1995, when the total population peaked at 29,000. The latest figures show that, by 2010, there were just 18,000 left.
Scientists believe illegal hunting, power lines and lead poisoning have contributed to the drop in numbers. WWT fears the next census, due this winter, will reveal a "further, more worrying decline".
In some winters, the Ouse Washes spanning Norfolk and Cambridgeshire receives 33% of the northwest European Bewick's swan population. Head of UK waterbird conservation Eileen Rees said the swans were not producing enough offspring to replace the ones that have died over the year.
"We have two possible solutions - to find out and address what's hampering breeding, and to reduce the number of preventable deaths along their migration route. We have a plan in place to do both, and much work is underway already, but we need to do it all if we're to change the fortune of our wildest and most beautiful swan." Read full article