Why do we survey geese?

Over the winter months we carry out monthly goose counts at Loch Lomond national nature reserve. Hundreds of geese spend the winter at this wetland site, roosting on the water overnight and flying out to the fields to feed during the day. To survey them we get into position with the scope before sunrise and count them as they fly out to the fields in groups (or skeins) after waking up. Several species can be found on the reserve, including Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and Greenland White-fronted geese.

Dawn goose count at Loch Lomond NNR

We are particularly interested in knowing how many Greenland White-fronted geese there are as this species is in decline and is of the highest conservation concern among the UK’s geese. They breed in Western Greenland and migrate south via Iceland to spend the winter in Ireland and Britain. In Scotland their largest wintering site is on Islay and the remaining population overwinters along the west coast, including at Loch Lomond. Despite some conservation action in the UK to protect these wintering sites, and the banning of hunting in Iceland, their numbers continue to decline.

Since the 1990s population numbers have been falling due to poor reproductive success, meaning that too few young are produced each year to replace annual losses. It is thought that poor reproduction is due to changes in climate in Greenland as increased spring snowfall prevents birds from feeding and therefore reaching good breeding condition. In addition it is likely that competition from increasing numbers of Canada geese at their breeding sites is impacting reproductive success. Furthermore, in the future, melting inland ice is also likely to affect their breeding habitat. As just 13,000 Greenland White-fronts overwinter in the UK today, it is important that we continue to collect survey data required for the conservation of this species.

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