The first Bewick's swan of the year has arrived at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge.
Britain is facing its longest winter in 50 years after the earliest-ever arrival of a Siberian swan which traditionally heralds the start of the season.

Each year around 300 Bewick's swans migrate 2,500 miles from Arctic Russia to escape the approaching cold weather which follows closely behind them.

They flock to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge, Glos, where their arrival has been recorded since 1963.

The first bird arrived on Sunday - a full 25 days earlier than last year and the earliest date on record.

It coincided with the first frosts of the autumn in the area and experts say its early return could be a sign of a long, hard winter ahead.

The premature arrival of winter in many European countries has encouraged Bewick's swans to flock westwards earlier than usual.

Temperatures are currently five to 10 degrees below average in parts of western Russia and eastern Europe and are expected to drop to the minus 30s.

Spurred on by bitter north easterly winds, many of the swans are currently gathering in the Netherlands, with 45 on Lake Gooimeer and 80 on Lake Lauwersmeer.

El Niño is also underway in the tropical Pacific, which has further fuelled speculation that Europe is in for a longer and colder winter than usual.

Slimbridge swan expert Julia Newth said: "Apparently there's a Russian saying that 'the swan brings snow on its bill', because they tend to move just ahead of the cold weather.
© The Telegraph, UK
Bewick's swans have migrated to Slimbridge every winter since 1963.
"Of course, we can't infer much from the arrival of a single swan but it's certainly exciting this bird has arrived so early.

"It's only a year old and, because it's made it all the way here on its own, we assume that it must have come to Slimbridge last year as a cygnet with its parents.

"We record all the Bewick's swans that come to Slimbridge each winter by their unique bill pattern as part of our study and give them a name.

"This one needed a name, so we've called him Record Breaker."

A spokeswoman for Slimbridge said they had kept records of the arrival of the swans since 1963 and this was the earliest they had ever been seen.
© The Telegraph, UK
Bewick's swans migrate 2,500 miles from Arctic Russia.
Bewick's - the smallest and rarest members of the swan family - live in Siberia during the summer and normally arrive at Slimbridge between October and January.

They have migrated to Slimbridge every winter since 1963 with adults teaching their young the route.

Each swan is recorded by the unique pattern of black and yellow on its beak upon arrival, as part of one of the longest running studies on a single species.

The previous record for the earliest Bewick's swans to arrive in Britain was held by a couple called Tomato and Ketchup who arrived at Slimbridge on 12 October 1980.