Project Archive: Threats to Migratory Swans

Migratory swans face many threats on their epic long-distance journeys. The endangered Northwest European Bewick’s swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii), may travel over 11 countries on its migration between the Russian Arctic and Europe and faces persecution from illegal hunting throughout its range. Working closely with Russian partners, Dr Julia Newth draws on methods from the social sciences to identify motivations for poaching and causes of accidental shooting of swans in the Russian Arctic with the aim of informing effective conservation interventions.

Both the Bewick’s and whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), the latter of which migrates between Iceland and Britain & Ireland, are also affected by lead poisoning following their exposure to spent lead ammunition which they ingest while feeding. Julia used multi-disciplinary approaches to explore the biological effects of lead on the physiology of waterbirds and the social perspective of hunters in the UK in relation to the risks arising from use of lead ammunition and the measures taken to mitigate these.


Newth, J.L., Rees, E.C., Cromie, R.L., McDonald, R.A., Bearhop, S., Pain, D.J., Norton, G.J., Deacon, C., Hilton, G.M. 2016. Widespread exposure to lead affects the body condition of free-living whooper swans Cygnus Cygnus wintering in Britain. Environmental Pollution 209: 60–67.

Newth, J.L., Cromie, R. & Kanstrup, N. 2015. Lead shot in Europe: conflict between hunters and conservationists. In: Redpath, S.M., Gutierrez, R.J., Wood, K.A. & Young, J.C. (eds) Conflicts in Conservation: Navigating towards solutions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 177–179.

Newth, J.L., Cromie, R.L., Brown, M.J., Delahay, R.J., Meharg A.A., Deacon, C., Norton, G. J., O’Brien, M.F. & Pain, D.J. 2012. Poisoning from lead gunshot: still a threat to wild waterbirds in Britain. European Journal of Wildlife Research 59: 195–204.

Newth, J.L., Brown, M.J. & Rees, E.C. 2011. Incident of embedded shotgun pellets in Bewick’s Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii and Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus wintering in the UK. Biological Conservation 144: 1630–1637.

Project Team

Julia Newth (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust / University of Exeter)

Professor Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter)

Professor Robbie McDonald (University of Exeter)

Dr Eileen Rees (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust)

Dr Ruth Cromie (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust)




Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences

All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection

Featured Image: Colin Butters.