Devoted pair of whooper swans raise chicks at Welney reserve

Romeo stays behind to be with injured Julietta as whoopers should breed in Iceland

A heart-warming tale of love and devotion has resulted in the arrival of a unique brood of cygnets on a Fenland nature reserve - 1,100 miles from their normal nursery.

A pair of whooper swans, Romeo and Julietta, have successfully bred at Welney, but it is entirely due to Romeo's devotion as the swans should really be in Iceland - the traditional breeding ground.

Julietta has been injured, probably by flying into overhead power cables, and was unable to make the 1,800km journey back to the remote wetlands of Iceland, but loving Romeo has stayed by her side.

Whooper swans pair for life but this couple have surprised even the experts with the startling act of devotion.


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A spokesman for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve said it was incredibly unusual for one bird to remain with the other if there was no chance of migration.

'We really don't know what will happen next. The cygnets would normally migrate with their parents for a year or two, so we will have to wait and see,' she said.

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It is very rare for a pair to successfully breed in the UK and this is the first time whooper swans have bred at Welney and the first recorded breeding in Norfolk since 1928.

Leigh Marshall, reserve manager at WWT Welney said:'Though we love to see this pair throughout the summer, in many ways it is very sad that they've stayed in England, while the rest of their population has returned to Iceland to breed. We are really pleased for them that they've been able to hatch a brood, despite the odds being stacked against them with Julietta's injury.

'We reckon Julietta's injury could have been due to a flying collision. Swans are too big to avoid power-lines at the last minute. Injuries and sometimes death can occur from these collisions. Luckily for the swans, UK Power Networks and National Grid have worked with WWT to make their cables more obvious to the birds by using reflective tags or large markers.

'It's a remarkable testament to WWT Welney and our visitors that the swans felt that the reserve provided the right conditions to raise a brood. Visitors are coming to see the rare spectacle, but showing the utmost respect'

Wetlands such as WWT Welney, on the Ouse Washes, are a safe place for swans to roost away from predators. According to the WWT, in the last 100 years the amount of inland wetland alone has halved – because of land reclamation, changes to agriculture, pollution, water diversions and other developments.

Such losses are catastrophic for wildlife. Scientists blame them for pushing a third of all amphibians, 15pc of water birds, more than 40pc of reptiles, 30pc of mammals and 6pc of fish species close to extinction.

Both Romeo and Julietta were ringed at WWT Welney in November 2007 and have nested on the main lagoon in front of the main observatory.

WWT works to protect whooper swans and their habitats and tracked the migration of 50 whooper swans to and from Iceland to check that their flights didn't bring them into conflict with proposed offshore wind farms. By monitoring the population WWT keeps a check on what needs to be done to protect them. X-rays taken of the swans, when staff catch them for ringing, show that around 13pc are living with shot embedded in their tissues – a strong indicator of the level of illegal shooting that continues.

Lead poisoning from ingesting spent gunshot is also a problem and WWT studies have demonstrated that a high proportion of bird have elevated blood lead levels.

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