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Viv Jones in Russia

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Aug 30, 2017 04:45 PM |

by Professor Viv Jones

In August I spent two weeks in the remote Arctic region in the Nenets Zapovednik (Nature reserve) situated in the Pechora Delta; one of the largest wetlands in Northern Europe (see map below).  It is a remote area and only accessible by boat, taking about 5 hours to reach from the nearest town, Naryan Mar. The area is an important summer breeding ground for migratory birds with important populations of waders, swans and geese.  One species, the Bewick’s Swan is of particular interest since birds migrate from the Russian tundra, across Europe to the UK with wintering populations at reserves such as  WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) Slimbridge.  The numbers of Bewick’s has fallen by about 30% since the 1990s with effects of climate change, increased hunting and wetland habitat loss, and fatalities caused by power lines and wind turbines, all being thought to have adversely affected the populations.  Last year their migration route was tracked by Sacha Dench who flew with the swans in a paramotor supported by a land-team, and this year the aim of this expedition was to complete the filming, monitor the Bewick’s and other swans, and characterise the lakes and wetlands.


Over 10 days, colleagues from the Nature Reserve and the WWT helped by myself, PhD student Hannah Robson and the media team caught nearly 100 swans which were then rung and measured for biometrics such as weight. We sometimes captured birds that had been previously sighted in Slimbridge and other wetlands on their migratory route, and caught one Dutch bird which had been tagged with a GPS last year.


Hannah and I spent most of the time on the numerous shallow lakes which make up the delta (see photo below).  We collected zooplankton, algal samples and water chemistry samples from about 15 lakes from 3 different regions of the area to characterise their biology and also collected lake sediment cores from 10 lakes. The lakes were quite shallow (less than a metre deep) but surprisingly varied with some being fully fresh and other showing high conductivities, meaning they are connected to the tidal (salty) river systems. The lake sediment cores will give us a record of past changes and will enable us to investigate whether the lakes in the wetlands have been affected by recent environmental changes such as climate warming and long distance pollution.  In the next few months the cores will be radiometrically dated to determine how old the sediment is and then analysed for geochemistry to see if there is any evidence of pollution and also a variety of plant and animal fossils will be examined. We hope that the results will enable us to determine if the lakes have changed in the recent past and whether such changes might be detrimental to the swan populations.