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Following the Bewick’s to Russia

Sir Peter Scott and his family had been studying the Bewick’s at their Slimbridge home since 1964.  But, it wasn’t until 1978 that they were eventually able to gain access to the Yamal Peninsula in arctic Russia and see for themselves the breeding grounds of the birds they now regarded as personal friends.

At this time, visiting Siberia was hard even for Soviet citizens. But thanks to friends Sir Peter had met over the years at various conferences, strings were pulled and permission was granted.

On this first expedition to find out more about the Bewick’s lives in Russia, Sir Peter Scott was accompanied by his wife, Philippa and daughter, Dafila.  The expedition leader was the distinguished Russian ornithologist Vladimir Flint and they were joined by an interpreter, and according to Sir Peter’s diaries, a reindeer carcass to be refrigerated in the snow and copious amounts of vodka.  

And Sir Peter’s verdict on the 1978 expedition?  That the supporting team was ‘superlatively competent”, the leadership “outstanding” and the food “good but rather fattening”.

Unfortunately the Russian invasion of Afghanistan called a halt to any more immediate expeditions.  But with glasnost and the end of the Cold War, an era of new openness began.  And thanks to the hard work of Russian partners, like Vladimir Flint, regular expeditions started up again in the early 90s.

An epic flight

Fast-forward 38 years and today Sir Peter Scott’s beloved Bewick’s are facing a dramatic decline in numbers.   Every winter, we are seeing fewer and fewer of these swans reaching us here in Europe.

So this year, following in the footsteps of Sir Peter Scott, WWT’s Sacha Dench, her ground crew and a team of researchers from WWT HQ, are embarking on one of the most audacious challenges ever undertaken in the pursuit of conservation.  

Find out more about the work of the conservationists and scientists behind this expedition in our next edition of Waterlife.

Be part of this epic flight and sign our petition to save the Bewick's and the wetland habitats they need to survive.