speciesaccounts_greylaggooseBritish Greylag Goose

Anser anser

The Greylag Goose is Britain’s only native breeding goose. By the late 1900s, continuous persecution of the species had caused a dramatic decrease in numbers and a large reduction in range, so much so that the population was restricted to the extreme north and west of Scotland. This small population became known as the ‘Northwest Scotland’ population.

A ‘Re-established’ population was established in southwest Scotland, Wales and parts of England through releases of birds mainly in the 1930s and 1960s, derived from eggs taken from sites in the north and west of Scotland.

In recent decades, both of these populations have greatly increased in number and range, and have gradually overlapped to the point where it has become impossible to treat them separately. As a result, since 2010 all Greylag Geese breeding in Britain are recognised as a single British Greylag Goose population.

  • Conservation Status

    Global status (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species)

    African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)

    European status (European Red List of Birds)

    The Birds Directive (European Commission)

    UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern)

    UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981)

    Least Concern

    Not listed (non-migratory)

    Least Concern (Europe and EU27)

    Annex II (Part A)

    Amber

    huntable during the open season

    Population Status

    GB estimate (Musgrove et al. 2011)

    GB trend (SUKB 2016)

    Breeding success (GSMP survey)

    140,000 individuals

    Long-term trend (1988/89 – 2013/14): 149% increase
    Ten-year trend (2003/04 – 2013/14): 31% increase

    Northwest Scotland: proportion of young generally fluctuates between 20% and 30%. Five-year mean of 34% in flocks on Tiree (2010 – 2014) and 26% on the Uists (2008 – 2012). Rest of Britain: 24% young recorded during 2000 census.

    Reference

    Musgrove, A.J., G.E. Austin, R.D. Hearn, C.A. Holt, D.A. Stroud & S.R. Wotton. 2011. Overwinter population estimates of British waterbirds. British Birds 104: 364-397.

  • The Greylag Goose used to breed in the wild in the East Anglian fens, Lancashire, the Lake District and probably many other parts of Britain. By the early 1900s, however, the species was restricted to the extreme north and west of Scotland as a result of almost continuous persecution that caused a dramatic decrease in numbers and range contraction.

    flyway map greylag_british

    Flyway of the British Greylag Goose

    Numbers began to increase from the 1950s, probably due to a reduction in persecution through changes in legislation in Britain, the establishment of protected areas, and the fact that the geese began to take advantage of the increase in the quantity and quality of the improved pasture available. In England and Wales the creation of gravel pits and other man made waterbodies provided additional habitat for nesting.

    Greylag Geese breeding in Britain were until recently considered to comprise two separate populations: one breeding in Scotland primarily on the Outer Hebrides, Coll and Tiree, and in parts of Caithness and Sutherland, other Hebridean Islands (e.g. Mull), on coastal areas of Wester Ross, and in Orkney and Shetland, which is the remnant of the native population that used to be more widespread (Mitchell 1999, Mitchell et al. 2011); and a second breeding in many areas of Scotland to the south and east of the Great Glen and in England and Wales that is largely derived from re-established stock taken as eggs from sites in north and west Scotland, primarily Loch Druidibeg in the Outer Hebrides (Owen & Salmon 1988, Mitchell & Fox 1999).

    Both segments of the population have recently increased greatly in number and range. In some parts of Scotland the populations overlap and are therefore indistinguishable. The geese now breed throughout Britain and there is modest interchange of individuals between the two populations making delineation difficult to justify. As a consequence, since 2010 Greylag Geese breeding throughout Britain have been treated as one population (Mitchell et al. 2012).

    Most birds moult close to the breeding areas, although large numbers of non-breeders are known to gather at key moult sites. For example, Loch Loyal, Sutherland, attracts non-breeding birds from a large part of northern Scotland and Loch Leven, Perth & Kinross attracts non-breeding birds from the Lothians and Fife.

    The main winter habitat is thought to have been saltmarsh and coastal Scirpus beds, but as little of this now remains in Britain, the geese switched to feeding on arable land and improved pastures centuries ago. The birds favour cereal stubbles, oats and ryes during the autumn and grass is used throughout the winter. This has brought them into conflict with crofters and farmers who believe the birds damage their crops and cause reduced yields. Sown grass and permanent pasture are used in the spring, and, in Scotland, moorland vegetation is particularly important in June/July during the moult period. The birds roost on estuaries, coastal sandflats and freshwater lakes, lochs and mires. Most breeding areas include extensive open waters (coastal or inland) with dense vegetation, such as heather, and have ready access to suitable grazing pasture and wetlands.

    References

    Mitchell, C. 1999. Greylag Goose Anser anser: Scotland. In: Madsen, J., G. Cracknell & A.D. Fox (eds.). 1999. Goose populations of the Western Palearctic. A review of status and distribution. Wetlands International Publication no. 48, Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands/National Environmental Research Institute, Ronde, Denmark.

    Mitchell, C. & A.D. Fox. 1999. Feral Greylag Goose Anser anser: United Kingdom. In: Madsen, J., G. Cracknell & A.D. Fox (eds.). 1999. Goose populations of the Western Palearctic. A review of status and distribution. Wetlands International Publication no. 48, Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands/National Environmental Research Institute, Ronde, Denmark.

    Mitchell, C., R.D. Hearn & D.A. Stroud. 2012. The merging of populations of Greylag Geese breeding in Britain. British Birds 105: 498-505.

    Mitchell, C., L. Griffin, M. Trinder, J. Newth & C. Urquhart. 2011. The status and distribution of summering Greylag Geese in Scotland, 2008/09. Bird Study 58: 338-348.

    Owen, M., & D. Salmon. 1988. Feral Greylag Geese Anser anser in Britian and Ireland, 1960-86. Bird Study 35: 37-45.

  • Annual counts and age assessments at key sites

    An annual census of the whole British Greylag Goose population is not undertaken, in part due to the remoteness of the northwestern reaches of the population’s range. Annual counts are, however, conducted at several key areas in Scotland by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), including i) Orkney, ii) the Uists, Outer Hebrides, and iii) Tiree, Inner Herbrides.

    These areas are local goose management schemes administered by SNH in order to alleviate damage to farming interests and are therefore of high interest to conservationists and land managers alike. A count is carried out in late August to provide a post-breeding population total before the shooting season starts in September. On the Uists, a second count is carried out in early February to provide a post-shooting population total before the birds start to move off crofting land to the more inaccessible breeding areas. The difference between the two count totals provides an estimate of winter mortality.

    To assess reproductive success, assessments of the proportion of young in the flocks and of brood size are made in August on both the Uists and Tiree.

    Results from these counts are summarised on the ‘Latest results’ tab.

    Find out more about age assessments.

    Scottish Greylag Goose Survey

    Complete censuses of the British population in Scotland were undertaken in summer 1997 and 2008-2009 to estimate population size and breeding success in Scotland. The most recent census also provided valuable information on the overlap between the former ‘Northwest Scotland’ and ‘Re-established’ populations which allowed their population status to be reassessed. The future frequency of this census has yet to be determined.

    Results from these surveys can be found on the Reports & newsletter page.

    Find out more about the Scottish Greylag Survey

    Survey of British Greylag Geese on Orkney

    Archipelago-wide surveys of British Greylag Geese in Orkney have been undertaken each August since 2012. The aim of the surveys are to assess the abundance, distribution and breeding success of the population on the islands. Surveys involve field and age counts, and a random stratified survey.

    Results from these surveys can be found on the Reports and newsletter page.

    Wetland Bird Survey

    The abundance of British Greylag Geese are also monitored throughout Britain through the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), although low coverage of the whole population means a comprehensive assessment of total population size is not possible. Data are, however, used to produce trends for the population.

    Results from WeBS are presented in an annual report. See the WeBS website for details.

     

  • Results for 2015/6 [added August 2016]

    Abundance

    The abundance of British Greylag Geese in Britain during 2015/16 was monitored through the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). Results are presented on WeBS Report Online.

    Numbers at key sites in Scotland

    An annual census of all British Greylag Geese is not undertaken, but annual counts and estimates of breeding success are carried out in four key areas in Scotland where Greylag Geese are actively managed, namely Orkney, the Uists (Outer Hebrides), Tiree/Coll (Inner Hebrides) and Harris/Lewis (Outer Hebrides).

    On Tiree, the late summer (August) count totalled 1,903 geese (Figure 1), a 32% decrease compared to the previous year. The count in August 2015 may have been an underestimate due to late silage cutting in wet weather, which meant that there were many more long-grass silage fields around than normal during the count, in which geese could potentially hide unseen. However, the peak winter count was 2,047 birds in mid January 2016, suggesting that the late August count was reasonably accurate despite the conditions. As recently as 2006, 4,005 Greylag Geese were counted on Tiree.

    On the Uists, 6,188 Greylag Geese were counted in early September (Figure 1), a decrease of 24.8% on the previous year. However, this was after shooting had started in early August. During a second count in late February 2016, 4,293 geese were counted, a decrease of 23.0% compared to the previous year.

    On Orkney, an archipelago-wide census carried out in late August found 21,354 Greylag Geese (Mitchell et al.  2015), the majority being on Mainland (11,621 birds) (Figure 2). This was a 6.8% decrease on the previous year (Mitchell et al. 2014).

    On Harris/Lewis, a survey in autumn 2015 found 3,794 Greylag Geese, a 30% decline on the previous year.

    Figure_BritGJ_1_1_2016

    Figure 1. Late summer counts of British Greylag Geese on the Uists (blue circles), Tiree (red squares), Orkney (black open circles) and Harris/Lewis (Black triangles), 1986 to 2015. Five-year running means shown as lines. Data for Harris & Lewis provided by SNH.

    Figure_BritGJ_2_2016

    Figure 2. The distribution of Greylag Geese found during field surveys in Orkney in late August 2015 (from Mitchell et al. 2015). Blue dots are proportional to flock size. Green dots indicate 1km squares dominated by moorland habitat.

    Breeding success

    Breeding success in Orkney was estimated at 27.0% young in late summer flocks, with a mean brood size of 3.37 young per successful pair. On Tiree, breeding success was 29.7%, with a mean brood size of 2.54 young per successful pair. On the Uists, breeding success was estimated at 24.8% young with a mean brood size of 2.83 young and on Harris/Lewis the values were 16.8% young with a mean brood size of 2.65 young per successful pair (Figure 3).

    Figure_BritGJ_3_3_2016

    Figure 3. The percentage of young British Greylag Geese recorded on the Uists (blue circles) 1986-2015 (no data were collected in 2004, 2005, 2013 and 2014), on Tiree (red squares) 1998–2015, on Orkney (black open symbols) 2012–2015 and on Harris/Lewis (black triangles) 2015. Data from Bowler et al. (2008), J. Bowler pers. comm., SNH, Mitchell et al. (2015) and Mitchell (2015).

    Discussion

    British Greylag Geese continue to do remarkably well, with numbers and distribution both increasing. For example, the latest WeBS trend for the whole of the UK shows a steady increase in numbers, especially since the 1980s. Some sites hold particularly large concentrations, for example: Nosterfield Gravel Pits, North Yorkshire (3,132 birds, 5 year average 2010/11 to 2014/15), North Norfolk coast (2,172), Loch Leven, Kinross (1,872) and Lower Derwent Ings, North Yorkshire (1,614).

    The increase in abundance in Scotland led to calls to control numbers in key areas where the geese interacted with agricultural economic interests. Three areas in Scotland were chosen for pilot adaptive management schemes (Orkney, the Uists and Tiree/Coll) and these areas have been subject to recent licensed shooting during the close season as well as an increase in shooting during the open season. In 2015, the management scheme was extended to Harris/Lewis.

    The goal of the Orkney pilot management scheme is to reduce damage to agricultural economic interests by maintaining the current levels of shooting in order to bring the summer population of British Greylag Geese down to 9,000 to 11,000 birds (SNH in litt.). The late August 2015 count in Orkney was the fourth annual archipelago-wide assessment and showed that the number had decreased slightly by 6.8% compared to the previous year. Nearly 10,000 geese were shot there in the previous 12 months although during the winter some of the geese shot will have been migrants from Iceland. However, given that between c.20,000 and c.23,000 Greylag Geese have been counted in Orkney during late August in 2012 to 2015, it seems the rapid increase in number up to 2012 (of c. 19% per annum, see Mitchell et al. 2012) has stopped and that, due to increased shooting, the population trend has stabilised.

    The number of Greylag Geese counted on the Uists in September 2015 (6,188) was 24.8% lower than the previous year. As on Orkney, the recent increase in shooting appears to have led to a stabilisation in numbers. The goal of the pilot management scheme on the Uists is to bring the summer population down to 3,600 to 4,400 birds (SNH in litt.). Numbers counted on Tiree (1,903) in late August 2015 were 32% lower than the previous year, although the total may have been an undercount due to the wet summer. The current peak counts of Greylag Geese, at any time of the year on Tiree are just over a half of what they were in 2006. Under the management scheme, the target population range for Greylag Geese is of 1,350 to 1,650 birds on Tiree and 300 to 550 birds on Coll (SNH in litt.).Numbers on Harris/Lewis have been relatively stable at between 3,700 to 5,800 birds since 2010

    Acknowledgements

    Goose and age counts from Tiree were kindly provided by John Bowler. Goose counts on the Uists and Harris/Lewis were provided by SNH.

    References

    Bowler, J., C. Mitchell, & A.J. Leitch. 2005. Greylag Geese on Tiree and Coll, Scotland: Status, Habitat Use and Movements. Waterbirds 28: 61–70.

    Mitchell, C. 2015. Breeding success of Greylag Geese on the Outer Hebrides, August 2015. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.

    Mitchell, C., A.J. Leitch, K. Brides & E. Meek. 2012. The abundance and distribution of British Greylag Geese on Orkney, August 2012. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.

    Mitchell, C., A.J. Leitch & E. Meek. 2014. The abundance and distribution of British Greylag Geese on Orkney, August 2014. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.

    Mitchell, C., A.J. Leitch & E. Meek. 2015. The abundance and distribution of British Greylag Geese on Orkney, August 2015. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.

  • Previous annual results will be archived here.

    2014/15 Results

    2013/14 Results

    2012/13 Results

    2011/12 Results

    2010/11 Results

    2009/10 Results

    2008/09 Results

    2007/08 Results

    2006/07 Results

    2005/06 Results

  • Background

    A number of colour-marking projects have been undertaken on British Greylag Geese to gain better understandings of movements. Several projects based in Cumbria, Severn Vale, Strathclyde and in Kent are specifically looking in to the moult migration movements of the species, along with winter site fidelity. During winter birds are mainly captured by the use of firing cannon nets over feeding flocks, though during summer most birds are rounded in moult roundups during the flightless period. The most extensive, long-running or recent studies using colour marking on British Greylag Geese are:

    A number of colour-marking projects have been undertaken on British Greylag Geese. The most extensive, long-running or recent of these include:

    • Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, Kent, by Dartford Ringing Group
    • Nosterfield, Yorkshire, by East Dales Ringing Group
    • Severn Vale by WWT and Jerry Lewis
    • South Wales by Richard Clarke
    • Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow by Bernie Zonfrillo and the Clyde Ringing Group
    • Windermere, Cumbria by Kane Brides & Kevin Leighton (RSPCA)
    • Norfolk Broads by BTO
    • Tiree, Argyll & Bute, by Scottish Natural Heritage and John Bowler (RSPB)
    • Orkney Islands, by Scottish Natural Heritage and Orkney Ringing Group
    • Shetland Islands, by WWT and Shetland Ringing Group

    The majority of these projects have used white or yellow leg rings, or grey or orange neck collars. Sightings of marked British Greylag Geese can be submitted in the usual way.

  • Survey results

    Orkney British Greylag Goose Surveys: see the Reports & newsletter page

    Scottish Greylag Goose Survey: see the Reports & newsletter page

    Wetland Bird Survey Alerts

    Wetland Bird Survey annual report

    Relevant publications

    Mitchell, C., L. Griffin, M. Trinder & J. Newth. 2010. The population size of breeding Greylag Geese Anser anser in Scotland in 2008/09. WWT Report to Scottish Natural Heritage. Download

    Mitchell, C., L. Griffin, M. Trinder, J. Newth & C. Urquhart. 2011. The status and distribution of summering Greylag Geese in Scotland, 2008/09. Bird Study 58: 338-348.

    Mitchell, C., R.D. Hearn & D.A. Stroud. 2012. The merging of populations of Greylag Geese breeding in Britain. British Birds 105: 498-505.

    Mitchell, C., D. Patterson, P. Boyer, P. Cunningham, R. McDonald, E. Meek,  J.D. Okill & F. Symonds. 2000. The summer status and distribution of Greylag Geese in north and west Scotland. Scottish Birds 21: 69-77.

    Other relevant material

    BirdLife International Species factsheet

    British Trust for Ornithology: BirdFacts

    Review of Goose Management Policy in Scotland 2010

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