European White-fronted Goose
Anser albifrons albifrons
The European White-fronted Geese that winter in Britain are from the Baltic/North Sea population which breeds in European Arctic Russia and northwest Siberia, and winters predominately in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Britain is on the very western edge of the population’s wintering range hence only small numbers occur in the country; though numbers can vary considerably particularly in relation to severity of winter weather.
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)
* assessed at species level Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Least Concern (Europe and EU27)*
Annex II (Part B)
huntable in England and Wales during the open season
Flyway population size (CSR 6; Wetlands International 2015)
GB estimate (Musgrove et al. 2011)
GB trend (SUKB 2016)
Breeding success (GSMP survey)
Long-term trend (1988/89 – 2013/14): 79% decrease
Ten-year trend (2003/04 – 2013/14): 47% decrease
Varies markedly between years (13-35%), but appears to have declined
Annual estimates of the percentage of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of European White-fronted Goose, 2004/05-2015/16; recorded at key sites in Britain.
Season Number of sites surveyed Total aged Percentage of young (%) Number of broods Mean brood size 2016/17 4 476 19.1 16 2.50 2015/16 2 270 16.3 10 2.20 2014/15 2 316 30.7 – – 2013/14 2 389 28.3 18 2.17 2012/13 2 360 18.8 15 2.20 2011/12 3 538 35.1 – – 2010/11 2 841 25.9 44 2.34 2009/10 2 684 26.2 – – 2008/09 2 748 13.2 – – 2007/08 8 1,634 24.3 104 1.90 2006/07 4 1,210 16.7 49 1.90 2005/06 6 1,779 34.3 93 3.01 2004/05 10 1,377 27.4 60 2.42
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 Baltic/North Sea population of European White-fronted Goose breeds in European Arctic Russia and northwest Siberia. These birds generally leave their breeding grounds in September and early October (Stroud et al. 2002). Those wintering in Britain pass through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, with a few also migrating through southern Sweden.
Flyway of the European White-fronted Goose
In Britain, the winter distribution is highly localised. Most regular wintering sites are in the south of England, with the key flocks occurring at the WWT Slimbridge, the Swale Estuary and sites in East Anglia. No sites in Britain support internationally important numbers of European White-fronted Geese any longer, but, since the early 2000s, nationally important numbers have occurred at around 20 sites. At sites in the western half of Britain, including WWT Slimbridge, numbers have declined in recent years and most sites have been abandoned. In East Anglia, however, numbers increased at several sites not occupied before 1980 (Hearn 2004), though since the mid 2000s numbers at most of these sites have been very variable with no clear trend (Calbrade et al. 2010).
European White-fronted Geese traditionally wintered on coastal grasslands and inland floodplains in Britain, grazing on natural vegetation. After decades of habitat degradation and loss, as a result of drainage and agricultural intensification, the species now feeds on cropped habitats. Permanent grasslands are the preferred agricultural habitat, although over recent decades a shift to crops such as winter wheat and maize stubble has been observed in Belgium (Kuijken et al. 2001).
Given that few birds winter in Britain nowadays, and those that do have a fragmented distribution and short period of residency, there is minimal conflict with agricultural interests. Hunting is the most significant cause of mortality for the European White-fronted Goose in the Western Palearctic (Mooij 2000) and the species remains a popular quarry for hunters throughout its wintering range.
Calbrade, N.A., C.A. Holt, G.E. Austin, H.J. Mellan, R.D. Hearn, D.A. Stroud, S.R. Wotton & A.J. Musgrove. 2010. Waterbirds in the UK 2008/09: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO/RSPB/JNCC in association with WWT. Thetford.
Hearn, R.D. 2004. Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons (Baltic/North Sea population) in Britain, 1960/61 – 1999/2000. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge.
Kuijken, E., W. Courtens, W. Teunissen, S. van Tieghem, C. Verscheure & P. Meire. 2001. Aantalsverloop en verspreidingsdynamiek van overwinterende ganzen in Vlaanderen. Rapport VLINA-project 2000/03. (RUG & UIA m.m.v. IN), AMINAL (Min. Vlaamse Gemeenschap).
Mooij, J.H. 2000. Population dynamics and migration of White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) in Eurasia. In: Ebbinge, B.S., Y.L. Mazourov & P.S. Tomkovich (eds.). Heritage of the Russian Arctic: Research, Conservation and International Co-operation. Ecopros, Moscow.
Stroud, D.A., A.D. Fox & A. Walsh. 2002. White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. In: Wernham, C.V., M.P. Toms, J.H. Marchant, J.A. Clark, G.M. Siriwardena & S.R. Baillie (eds.). The Migration Atlas: Movements of the Birds of Britain and Ireland. Pp. 161-165. T. & A.D. Poyser, London.
Wetland Bird Survey
The abundance of the European White-fronted Goose population in the UK is monitored through the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). The results from the survey are published in an annual report (see the WeBS website for details).
GSMP age assessments
Age assessments of European White-fronted Geese are undertaken at a few localities in Britain, with counts carried out between October and January; a focus is made on January as assessments are being undertaken elsewhere in Europe during that month as part of the International Waterbird Census. Counters record the number of first winter birds present within a flock and individual brood sizes (i.e. how many young in each family group).
Results of the age assessments can be found on the ‘Latest results’ tab.
Find out more about age assessments
Results for 2016/17 [August 2017]
The breeding success of European White-fronted Geese in the UK was assessed at WWT Slimbridge (Gloucestershire), North Warren (Suffolk) and Middle Marsh Farm and Huttoft (Lincolnshire). Overall, of the 476 birds aged, 19.1% were young birds, this being 2.8% higher than the previous year.
At WWT Slimbridge, 164 birds were aged with 40 juveniles (24.4%) present, 5.6% higher than in 2015/16 (Figure 1). Brood size counts were also carried out at the site, with 40 juveniles counted among 16 broods, giving a mean brood size of 2.50 goslings per successful pair, only slightly higher than the previous season.
At North Warren, 250 birds were aged of which 42 were juveniles (16.8%), at Middle Marsh Farm 41 birds were aged, including four juveniles (9.8%) and 21 birds were aged at Huttoft of which five were juveniles (23.8%). No brood counts were carried out at these sites.
Figure 1. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red line) of European White-fronted Geese recorded at WWT Slimbridge (where data have been collected regularly), 1993/94–2016/17. No data were collected during 1994/95 or 2003/04.
Results from age assessments made in the UK indicate that the breeding success of European White-fronted Geese wintering there in 2016/17 was slightly higher than the previous season (16.3%); however, it remained lower than the previous five-year average (25.9% ± 3.57 SE). Similar results were also found in other Russian Arctic breeding species wintering in the UK, such as Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Bewick’s Swan, with both populations showing an improvement in breeding success in 2016/17 compared with the previous season.
The Baltic/North Sea population of European White-fronted Geese, of which birds in the UK are a part, has shown a considerable decline in reproductive output since the early 1990s, and age assessments made elsewhere along the flyway, together with those from the UK, suggest little improvement in 2016 (Figure 2). A total of 228,501 geese was aged (including 79,583 in The Netherlands and 148,442 in Germany) of which 12.4% were juveniles. This figure sits at the lower end of the range when compared with previous results (Figure 2).
There was little difference in the percentage young recorded amongst flocks in The Netherlands (12.8 %) and Germany (12.4 %), but it was larger in the small sample from the UK (19.1 %). Although the UK sample was rather small, the larger proportion of first-winter birds may very well reflect a tendency for successful pairs to winter towards the western edge of the wintering range. This includes both UK and Belgium (for which data have yet to be received).
The mean brood size recorded in UK was also larger than that recorded in The Netherlands (1.61; 1,000 families) and Germany (1.64; 3,600 families). The overall brood size (in the data received so far) was 1.65 goslings per successful pair, which is also in the lower part of the range compared with previous results. The majority of successful Whitefront pairs (57%) were accompanied by only one gosling. Brood sizes of more than five goslings were very rare (1.2%), with the one brood of 13 goslings was a major exception.
Given the series of years with low reproduction in the past two decades and an estimated average annual survival rate of 0.82, the flyway population is likely to have slightly decreased recently. It may now even be lower than the current population estimate of 1,000,000 (Wetlands International 2017) individuals.
Figure 2. The percentage young of the Baltic/North Sea European White-fronted Goose population, 1960–2016 (the open circles represent incomplete data). Mainly data from the Netherlands and Germany. Data provided by Sovon Vogelonderzoek Nederland.
Thanks go to Martin McGill (WWT), David Thurlow (RSPB) and Nigel Lound for their continued efforts in collecting age assessment data, and to Kees Koffijberg (Sovon Vogelonderzoek Nederland) for providing additional information from the rest of the flyway.
Jongejans E., B.A., Nolet, H. Schekkerman, K. Koffijberg & H. de Kroon. 2015. Naar een effectief en internationaal verantwoord beheer van de in Nederland overwinterende populatie Kolganzen. Sovon-rapport 2014/56, CAPS-rapport 2014/02. Sovon Vogelonderzoek Nederland, Nijmegen. [in Dutch with and English summary]
Wetlands International 2017. Waterbird population estimates. Retrieved from wpe.wetlands.org June 2017.
Previous annual results will be archived here.
Hearn, R.D. 2004. Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons (Baltic/North Sea population) in Britain, 1960/61 – 1999/2000. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge. Download
Other relevant material
Research in Germany and Russia by Helmut Kruckenberg and colleagues