Lincoln swan numbers at record low

Swan numbers in Lincoln have reached record lows due to development around Brayford Pool, experts say.

The latest Brayford Mute Swan count by the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) shows the number of swans spotted on the pool has fallen to just 12.

The flock in Lincoln was once among the biggest in the country and contained over 200 birds.

Four years ago numbers were down to 69 swans, but since then there has been an 82% reduction.

The Wetland Bird Survey is based on multiple counts throughout the year, and the latest figures are based on eight counts between 2016 and 2017, meaning the data is a year behind.

A PhD researcher told The Lincolnite last year that bad weather might be to blame for the drop.

But now swan expert Cyril Bennis, who has been studying the birds for 40 years, says the fault lies with the recent development around Brayford Pool.

Cyril Bennis, who is the warden of the swan population in Stratford-Upon-Avon, published a report warning that Lincoln’s swans were in trouble back in 2006.

Cyril Bennis said: “I am not surprised that swan numbers have declined so much in Lincoln. 

“Swans used to have a natural area in the Brayford but they are losing that. I warned the authorities more than ten years ago, but they have turned a blind eye to it.

“They need to implement a policy of balance. They need to leave some of the Brayford wild.”

“After all, wildlife has no chance unless those in power give them a helping hand.

“Sadly I feel the commercial aspects have won out, and the people of Lincoln deserve more than that.”

“Swans are at our mercy. We’ve destroyed their home, eroded it over the years. It’s a tragedy, but it’s one that can be averted.

“Instead of just talking about it, the university, the City Council and the Brayford Trust need to do something solid on the Brayford.

“The time for talking is over. Something needs to be done.”

Photo: Emily Norton for The Lincolnite

The Lincolnite put Cyril’s comments to the City Council, The Brayford Trust and the University of Lincoln.

Keiron Manning, Planning Manager at City of Lincoln Council, said: “It is a shame that the swan population in and around the Brayford appears to have declined in recent times.

“However, there is no evidence to suggest that the area’s regeneration has had a direct impact.

“As part of the planning process, whenever an application for the area is received, we consult with wildlife experts and consider any amendments or comments suggested as part of that process.”

Photo: Marc Freeman

John Davidson, Secretary of the Brayford Trust, said: “The Brayford Trust is aware of continuing concerns about the decline of the swan population on and around Brayford Pool.”

“The Trust is responsible for managing the pool and its natural banks in accordance with environmental good practice but does not have the remit or resources to maintain the swan population, if such a thing were possible.”

“There is a theory that the decline is somehow due to development around the Pool. The City Council, not the Trust, is responsible for controlling the nature and extent of development around the Pool.

“The Trust do not claim to be swan experts, but do not believe development is to blame, as the decline in the number of swans has been swift and relatively recent.

“There continued to be a large number of birds in the area long after the University was built on the south bank, and the man made banks of Brayford Wharf North and  Brayford Wharf East have not been natural nesting or preening sites for decades if not centuries.

“An alternative explanation for the recent decline is that the former large population were young swans which have been driven off by the two nesting pairs who successfully produced large broods of cygnets on the Pool during last year’s breeding season. “

Photo: Marc Freeman

Professor Matthew Cragoe, Chair of the university’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, said: “While swan numbers do vary from year to year, we cannot be complacent and the university is keen to work with other interested people and parties in the city to understand factors affecting the Brayford swans and to help their populations thrive.

“We are pleased to be able to mobilise the energy and expertise of our scientists and students and have relaunched a swan colour marking programme this year.

“This should not only provide useful data on what is happening on the Brayford Pool and surrounding waterways, but also means that people across the city can play an active part in surveying.”

By the time of publication, The Brayford Trust did not respond to The Lincolnite‘s request for comment.

To help with the count, the University of Lincoln is now asking people to jot down the three numbers written on the yellow rings around swans’ legs and to email those numbers along with the location the swan was spotted to [email protected].

The university is asking members of the public to email them with the numbers of swans around the city. Photo: Dr Jenny Dunn

Using this information the university hopes to better understand the nesting, breeding, feeding habits and movements of the swans across the waterways in and around the city.

Dr Jenny Dunn from the University of Lincoln’s Life Sciences said: “We’d like to hear from people who spot a swan with the Lincoln tag, noting the location of the bird or even the location of their nests. This information will be really useful and will help to guide our catching and ringing efforts later in the year.

“The colour rings are easily readable whether swans are on land or in the water, and we hope that the public will get involved and help us to monitor the success and movements of Lincoln’s swans.”

“Colour ringing swan families allows us to look at how long swans live and how far juvenile swans disperse, without needing to catch the swans again to read a metal ring.

“We can also look at how productive – in terms of how many cygnets they rear – individual swan pairs are from year to year, and how this is affected by where they choose to nest.”