Understanding Greenland White-fronted Geese in Wales

Greenland White-fronted Geese have been the subject of a concerted WOS campaign to ban their shooting

The Welsh Ornithological Society has, for several years, been pressing for a ban on the shooting of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Wales. The Welsh Government has, despite two consultations and a raft of evidence, so far refused to change the law, making Wales the only part of the birds’ home range that continues to allow hunting. Wildfowlers in Wales do observe a voluntary ban, but this doesn’t help Greenland White-fronted Geese that spend the winter in areas not under the control of wildfowlers.

Raising the profile of the Greenland White-fronted Geese did prompt the Welsh Government to fund the satellite-tracking of two geese by RSPB Cymru and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. 14 birds were caught on the Dyfi estuary on 4 December 2016, all of which were fitted with numbered collars, and GPS transmitters were attached to two of the birds.

One of the satellite-tagged geese (WHIT01) remained on the Dyfi throughout the Winter, the tag providing detailed information about its use of feeding areas and roosts. It remained here until 2 April, when it left late in the evening, flying north over Anglesey, Rum and Lewis, then out into the Atlantic, arriving in southeast Iceland before 6pm on 3rd: a journey of 926 miles in around 20 hours (an average speed of 47mph). After a night’s rest, WHIT01 continued its journey to southwest Iceland, where it is expected to spend 4-6 weeks before continuing its journey to its Greenland breeding grounds. The mean departure date from Britain and Ireland has advanced by up to two weeks in the last 30-40 years, but departure from Iceland has not, the birds usually making the final leg of the journey to west Greenland in the first two weeks of May.

The second tagged goose (WHIT02), flew to the Irish Republic on 12 December, initially to a site in Co. Louth (north of Dublin), but quickly moving south to Wexford Slob, the main wintering site in the country. On 9 March, it flew back across the Irish Sea, initially to Porthmadog in North Wales, then back south to the Dyfi, where it remains in early April.

Rachel Stroud, who studies Greenland White-fronted Geese, wasn’t surprised by the movement of WHIT01, observing that the conditions on 2 April would be perfect for northbound flight between Britain/Ireland and Iceland.  However, a tweet from Rachel in Iceland on 4 April showed that heavy snow made for a cold welcome for northbound birds.

Click here to see the latest satellite-tracking information from both tagged birds, and the website of the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study Group for more information about the geese.

The marking initiative is funded by the Welsh Government and forms part of a larger study involving the following partners: Welsh Government, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB Cymru), Mick Green (ecologist), Natural Resources Wales, The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Dyfi, Mawddach & Dysynni Wildfowlers’ Association (DMDWA).
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