Greenland Y Fronts

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Loch Lomond NNR

Paul Roberts, area officer for SNH in the Stirling office writes again about goose roost counts at Loch Lomond NNR, why it is important to collect the data and the pain and effort gone through to collect it:

 I spend a lot of my time talking to planners and the public about how planning applications might affect the nature and landscapes around Stirling. Most of the time the reason we are concerned about a development is fairly obvious and in my experience people get what we’re on about and why it’s important.  Occasionally the reason isn’t so obvious and it can be hard for folk to understand why we are getting so excited about a particular plant or animal or habitat.

One example of a ‘difficult to understand’ animal is the Greenland white-fronted goose (alternatively known as the Greenland Y Fronted goose by my 15 year old son). No prizes for guessing where they come from but around 16,000 (over half the world’s population) spend the winter in the north and west of Scotland and migrate north to breed in the summer.  They are renowned for two things: feeding in the exact same fields year after year and being easily disturbed. This combination makes them prone to taking flight at the drop of a hat (or bark of a dog, or creak of a gate, or triggering of a security light…) but also being too fussy to settle in the field next door and eat the same grass as the one they’ve just left! Too much moving around can affect their ability to build up the fat reserves they need to fly north.  Ultimately this can prevent them from breeding or raising their chicks.  The Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve is also designated as a Special Protection Area. This is the highest level of legal protection and one of the reasons is the Greenland white-fronts that spend the winter here.

So I spend a fair amount of time working closely with planners, land managers and public talking about how to minimise the impact on these special, if a little frustrating, birds. But I’ve never, ever seen one in the flesh! Until today that is. This morning I got up at 3.30 am and stood in a freezing field to be rewarded by two[i] things: a magical sunrise throwing a pink alpenglow onto the snow-capped Luss hills and a flock of 100 Greenland white-fronted geese taking off and flying overhead. They didn’t get as far as western Greenland this morning but in a few weeks’ time they’ll be off. And next winter they’ll be back in Scotland to feed in the same fields. I think that makes this corner of Scotland pretty cool.

[i] Technically three things; the third being mild hypothermia.

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Paul checking symptons of mild hypothermia on NHS 111

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