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Slimbridge Swan research shows some romantic shenanigans

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: February 12, 2014

Bewick's swan Sarindi with new partner Sarind (c) JSLees

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Swans’ love lives have been revealed to be a lot more complicated than first thought, by a long-term research project at Slimbridge.

In the 50 years that researchers at the Wetland and Wildlife Trust’s headquarters on the banks of the Severn they have been tracking the lives of individual Bewick swans as well and looking at long term trends.

And some intriguing stories have been thrown up - suggesting Swan Lake could work just as well as a soap opera as a ballet.

Although the birds are known to mate for life, Sarindi and Saruni give the lie to that - they split up and now come to Slimbridge every winter with their new partners, seemingly getting along fine.

How civilised.

Others have been very busy like Casino, who lived for 27 years and produced 34 cygnets while Derek, who is named after a volunteer at the centre, didn’t appear for five years before starting to migrate to Gloucestershire again.

The study of the swans which migrate from the Russian Arctic is one of the longest-running in the world. It began in February 1964 when Slimbridge’s founder, Sir Peter Scott was painting the birds and noticed each had a unique bill pattern.

His daughter Dafila (CORR)helped him paint and name them and formalised their study into a scientific project.

She said: “My father would have been very proud to see the scientific research still going strong, 50 years after we first started painting individual swans and giving them names.

“The study is everything my father set up WWT to be. Visitors and researchers watch the swans together, experiencing the magic of being close to them and following their loves, power struggles and tragedies from one generation to the next.

“Through this understanding, we've produced decades of high quality research which has led to statutory protections for important wetlands and hope for the species' future.”

To honour the generally monogamous nature of the birds, and the fact that one of their courtship rituals sees them form a heart with their long elegant necks, WWT at Slimbridge are hosting a lovers’ trail for Valentine’s Day.

From Friday to February 22 visitors to the wildlife reserve will be challenged to try identifying individual Bewick swans from their unique bill markings, including a new swan couple Zara and Tindall named after Gloucestershire’s Royal sporting couple Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall.

As well a the identification trail visitors will be able to have a go at making a swan hat.

The trail is included in the normal entry fee for visitors and is free for members.

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