Sixth International Swan Symposium

Eileen Rees & Leho Luigujõe

Members of the Wetlands International / IUCN-SSC Swan Specialist Group (SSG) from Europe, Asia and North America came together to discuss the latest swan research and conservation activities during the 6th International Swan Symposium (6th ISS), held at the Estonian University of Life Sciences in Tartu, Estonia, from 16–19th October 2018. International swan symposia have been held at c. 10 year intervals since the first meeting, held at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK back in 1971, but SSG members opined during the 5th ISS (at Easton, Maryland, USA in February 2014) that the group should meet more frequently. It is therefore gratifying that the gap has reduced to 4 years, and we will aim to keep to this pattern in future years.

Photo: Members of the Wetlands International/IUCN-SSC Swan Specialist Group at the 6th International Swan Symposium, Tartu, Estonia.

Photo: Registration process.

Presentations given during the symposium, which were of an excellent standard, ranged from latest information on the results of long-term monitoring programmes (e.g. the international censuses of migratory swans in Europe, Mute Swan counts for Sweden and monitoring of yellow-billed swans in Estonia), to conflict issues (e.g. the increase in non-native Mute Swans in North America), and use of novel techniques. The latter gave exciting new information on the migration routes of Bewick’s Swans tracked in the East Asian flyway, and also on habitat changes (identified by analysing core samples) in the swans’ breeding areas since the mid-20th century. The plenary talk reviewed current knowledge on the conservation status of the world’s swan populations, which are mostly increasing, but major gaps in knowledge were identified. It was particularly pleasing to hear from the “next generation” of swan researchers, with five PhD students (2 from UK, 1 from Netherlands, 1 from China and 1 from the USA) giving updates on their studies. Such quality work is providing great insight into the swans’ life-cycles and their responses to rapidly changing environments in different parts of the globe.

Photo: Plenary presentation on the conservation status of the world’s swan populations.

Photo: Leif Nilsson (Sweden).

Photo: Jeff Snyder (USA).

Photo: Colette Hall (UK) .

Photo: Preben Clausen (Denmark).

Photo: Diana Solovyeva (Russia).

Photo: Dima Boiko (Latvia).

Photo: Nina Mikander (Finland).

  Photo: Peiru Ao (China) and Wim Tijsen (Nths).

Photo: Radoslaw Wlodarczyk (Poland).

Photo: Randy Knapik (USA).

Photo: Kevin Wood (UK).

Photo: Volker Blueml (Germany).

Photo: Preben Clausen (Dk) and Bart Nolet (Nths).

Photo: Craig Ely (USA).

Photo: Julius Morkūnas (Lithuania).

Photo: Ruslans Matrozis (Latvia).

Photo: Gert Dahms.

Photo: Pelle Andersen-Harild.

Photo: Mary Matthews with Olafur Einarsson.

In addition to the presentations, two workshops were held during the 6th ISS. A full day was devoted to the implementation of the Bewick’s Swan Action Plan, which was adopted by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in 2012 and is scheduled to continue until 2022.  The morning saw several presentations outlining work undertaken to date under the auspices of the Action Plan, including an update by Eileen Rees (as Coordinator if the Bewick’s Swan Expert Group; BSEG) of national actions in place for the implementation of the Action Plan, from information provided by the AEWA Focal Points from each country. In the afternoon session, which was chaired by Prof Chris Spray and facilitated by Nina Mikander (for the AEWA Secretariat), members of the Bewick’s Swan Expert Group (BSEG) discussed a rolling work programme for taking the Action Plan forward over the next 4–5 years. The second workshop – on swan monitoring programmes – resulted in a set of recommendations for monitoring work particularly in Europe, as it was noted that assessments of trends in numbers and total population size are undertaken regularly in North America. The main milestone is to undertake the next international swan census in mid-January 2020, with census dates thereafter to be considered in conjunction with EU and AEWA reporting schedules.

Photo: Eileen Rees (UK) introduces the workshop on the implementation of the AEWA International Single Species Action Plan for the NW European Bewick’s Swan population.

Photo: Leho Luigujõe (Estonia) on the National Action Plan for Bewick’s Swans in Estonia.

Photo: Carole Roberts (UK).

Photo: Rascha Nuitjen (Netherlands).

Photo: Sonia Rozenfeld (Russia).

Photo: Julia Newth (UK).

Photo: Bewick’s Swan Expert Group workshop, by Leho Luigujõe.

Photo: Chris Spray chairing the Bewick’s Swan Expert Group workshop.

Two films were shown during the conference – the beautiful film “The Wind Sculpted Land” by Joosep Matjus on Estonian wildlife throughout the year ( and also “Mystery of the Missing” from the Flight of the Swans (FotS) project. Sacha Dench was in attendance to discuss a second more conservation-focussed film with FotS Project Partners, and to consider how conservation messages resulting from FotS would be best disseminated by the film within different countries.

Amidst the talks and workshops, the mid-conference excursion to Lake Peipsi, where about 1,200 Bewick’s Swans were seen along the shore, including several colour-marked birds from Dutch, Belgian and British ringing programmes for the species. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had a glorious day, with many other species also sighted. The conference dinner involved toasts and speeches, a slide-show illustrating Estonian life, and we were honoured in that the renowned Estonian folk musician Juhan Uppin played the Estonian harmonium for the dancing (, including an Ukuaru waltz by the Estonian world famous composer Arvo Pärt. Those fortunate enough to join the post-conference excursion visited the wealth of Estonian habitats ranging from raised bogs to woodland meadows (which yielded Black Woodpecker and Crested Tit) and coastal bays, most notably the Matsalu Bay SPA and Ramsar site where the GPS-tagged Bewick’s Swan named “Pola” was identified with her mate “Pyotr”.

Photos: Mid-conference excursion to Lake Peipsi and the conference banquet.

Prior to the 6th ISS, Jan Beekman and Bjarke Laubek stood down as SSG coordinators for the NW European Bewick’s Swans and the NW Mainland European Whooper Swans, respectively, following many years involvement in Bewick’s and Whooper Swan studies. We are immensely grateful to Jan and Bjarke for their significant contributions to our understanding of these populations, and anticipate that they will continue to maintain an interest! Meanwhile, we are pleased to report that Wim Tijsen has kindly agreed to become coordinator for the NW European Bewick’s Swan population, and Preben Clausen likewise is kindly taking on the role of coordinator for the NW Mainland European Whooper Swan population, and we look forward to good communications about these populations into the future.

The success of the 6th ISS would not have been possible without the full cooperation of the conference organisers: the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the Estonian Ornithologists Society, the SSG and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). We are particularly grateful to the University for the help and facilities provided. We also thank Partners and Sponsors for supporting the symposium: AEWA, IUCN-SSC, Estonian Environmental Board, Estonian Environmental Investment Centre, Tartu City, Salibar OÜ, Salvest AS, Regio OÜ, Jardin OÜ and Pühaste Brewery OÜ. Kevin Wood, chair of the Scientific Committee, worked with committee members: Lei Cao, Preben Clausen, Craig Ely, Eileen Rees, Jeff Snyder, Diana Solovyeva, Radosław Włodarczyk and Aivar Leito (who sadly died just before the meeting), in developing the excellent scientific programme. Overall, a total of 98 scientists from 17 different countries (Belgium, Belarus, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, UK and USA), with information from most of these countries presented during the meeting. Plans are underway to publish papers from the meeting as a proceedings in Wildfowl. Meanwhile, the abstract book with programme, presentations and posters can be download here: