There were 80 Bewick’s swan grazing an arable field near Coldharbour Lane on Walland Marsh today. This suggests that numbers of this bird continue to fall in the area. In the 1960’s it was a rarity with fewer than 20 wintering birds reported, however numbers started to increase in the 1970’s so that by the early 1990’s there were between 300-350 wintering swans - numbers of international significance. These increases have been linked to changing agricultural practices, namely increased growing of oil-seed rape on which the birds now graze.
Since the 1990’s numbers of birds have steadily fallen, perhaps due to milder winters - why bother fly so far south-west when the continent is mild enough in the winter to allow you to feed safely. Behaviour of the birds also has changed, again as a result of changes in farming practice. Originally the swans used to feed on Walland Marsh and then flew to the Dungeness gravel pits at night to roost safely. With the creation of a large area of flooded land in the Marsh in the early 1990’s the birds changed their behaviour, roosting closer to their feeding areas, and using Dungeness only at the beginning of the wintering season when conditions on the Marsh were too dry, or during very frosty weather when the very deep gravel pits do not freeze over. In recent years a further change in their behaviour has seen the swans take to roosting on agricultural reservoirs early in the season, again avoiding long flights to Dungeness.
Clearly this bird is able to respond to changes in land management. The big question is how it, and it’s relative the mute swan, will cope with the 26 new wind turbines on the Marsh. Being large heavy birds that fly in to roost at dusk concern was expressed that their could be collisions with the new turbines and the impact of the development on the swans is now being monitored. So far this year the birds I have seen have been feeding well away from the wind farm - lets hope they continue to behave sensibly.