The relationship between Mute Swan Cygnus olor population trends in Great Britain and environmental change

Tiffany L. T. Ki, Deborah J. Pain, Jennifer A. Gill, Rhys E. Green

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Capsule: The increase in autumn sowing of crops is probably an additional contributory factor to the national ban on lead angling weights in influencing the large increase in British Mute Swan Cygnus olor numbers since the 1970s. Aims: The national population of Mute Swans in Great Britain has more than doubled since the 1970s, and previous correlative analyses of national population changes identified a national ban on lead angling weights in 1987 as the main driver of this change. We examine regional variation in Mute Swan population changes to test the contribution of additional environmental covariates to the observed increase. Methods: We explore regional and national variation in Mute Swan population trends to changes in climate, agriculture, water quality, and angling to assess whether the same patterns emerge at different scales. Results: Changes in the extent of oilseed rape and wheat, which provide winter food for Mute Swans, showed a consistent positive association with the spatial and temporal pattern of Mute Swan population trends, while a proxy for the expected change in the exposure of swans to lead weights from angling contributed much less. Conclusion: The lead weight ban occurred alongside rapid changes in arable cropping area, with swans probably benefitting from both increased food resources and reduced rates of lead ingestion. Our study highlights the value of exploiting both spatial and temporal variation in abundance when exploring potential drivers of population change. Future changes in agricultural policy and practice in Great Britain may influence Mute Swan populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-112
Number of pages14
JournalBird Study
Issue number3
Early online date10 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

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