East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose
Branta bernicla hrota
The East Atlantic population of Light-bellied Brent Goose breeds on Svalbard, Franz Josef Land and northeast Greenland and winters primarily in Denmark and at Lindisfarne, northeast England.
Global status (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) Least Concern* African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) A2 European status (European Red List of Birds) Least Concern (Europe and EU27)* The Birds Directive (European Commission) Annex II (Part B) UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern) Amber UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) not huntable * assessed at species level Brent Goose Branta Bernicla
Flyway population size (CSR 7; Wetlands International 2015) 10,000 individuals UK estimate (APEP 4) 3,400 individuals GB estimate (Frost et al. 2019) 3,400 individuals UK trend (Frost et al. 2020) 25-year trend (1992/93-2017/18) = 61% increase
10-year trend (2007/08-2017/18) = 20% decrease
Table 1. Annual estimates of the percentage of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose recorded at key site in Britain, 2005/06-2019/20.
Season Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 2019/20 37.5 3.18 2018/19 5.9 2.5 2017/18* 20 – 2016/17 26.7 – 2015/16 21.4 – 2014/15 6.3 – 2013/14 4.2 – 2012/13 7.6 – 2011/12 4.9 – 2010/11 11.6 – 2009/10 2.2 1.80 2008/09 2.0 1.67 2007/08 13.6 2.24 2006/07 2.5 2.50 2005/06 6.5 2.12 * very small sample assessed in 2017/18, with data not thought to be representative for flocks wintering in Britain during that season
Frost, T.M., N.A. Calbrade, G.A. Birtles, H.J. Mellan, C. Hall, A.E. Robinson,S.R. Wotton, D.E. Balmer & G.E. Austin. 2020. Waterbirds in the UK 2018/19: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.
Frost, T., G.E. Austin, R.D. Hearn, S. McAvoy, A. Robinson, D.A. Stroud, I. Woodward & S.R. Wotton. 2019. Population estimates of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain. British Birds 112: 130-145.
East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose data for Britain presented in Table 1 (Percentage of young/Mean brood size) are licensed under the Open Government Licence 3.0 except where otherwise stated.
When you use information from this report under the Open Government Licence you must include the following attribution:
Contains Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP) data from “WWT. 2020. Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme: survey results for East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose Brant bernicla hrota. WWT/JNCC/NatureScot, Slimbridge” retrieved from https://monitoring.wwt.org.uk/our-work/goose-swan-monitoring-programme/species-accounts/east-atlantic-light-bellied-brent/ © copyright and database right 2020. The GSMP is organised by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in partnership with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and NatureScot with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.
The East Atlantic population of Light-bellied Brent Goose (also known as the ‘Svalbard/North Greenland’ population) breeds on Svalbard, Franz Josef Land and northeast Greenland and winters primarily in Denmark and at Lindisfarne, northeast England. The geese stop over in Denmark in spring, before embarking on the longest unbroken migration of any Western Palearctic goose, to breeding grounds in the high Arctic that are further north than those of any other goose population. Post-breeding and non-breeding birds moult in the Arctic, before migrating direct to Denmark or England.
Flyway of the East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose
Traditionally, the main wintering sites were Mariager & Randers Fjords in Denmark, but Lindisfarne has become increasingly important with numbers increasing from 200 individuals in the 1950s, to over 3,000 in the 2000s and over 4,000 in the early 2010s. Occasionally, during severe weather in Denmark, up to 80% of the population occurs at Lindisfarne. In recent years, they have been arriving at these wintering sites increasingly early, with a corresponding decrease in the use of the previous main autumn staging area in the Danish Wadden Sea (Denny et al. 2004).
By mid to late winter, most birds have moved from the wintering sites to spring staging areas in Denmark, primarily at Nissum Fjord and increasingly at Agerø and several other sites. At this time the whole population is found in Denmark. Evidence suggests that many may stop over at non-breeding sites in Svalbard before moving to the breeding areas (Denny et al. 2004).
Until recently, Light-bellied Brent Geese only used what may be regarded as natural habitats, feeding on intertidal and subtidal seagrass (Zostera and Ruppia) and algal (Enteromorpha and Ulva lactuca) beds and saltmarshes. Since 1991, however, they have started feeding on agricultural land at many of their wintering/spring sites, using autumn-sown cereals, pastures and spring-sown cereal seeds. In some areas this has lead to conflicts with agricultural interests (Clausen et al. 1999).
Clausen, P., J. Madsen, S.M. Percival, G.Q.A. Anderson, K. Koffijberg, F. Mehlum & D. Vangeluwe. 1999. Light-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota: Svalbard. 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.
Denny, M.J.H., P. Clausen, S.M. Percival, G.Q.A. Anderson, K. Koffiberg & J.A. Robinson. 2004. Light-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota (East Atlantic population) in Svalbard, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain 1960/61 – 2000/01. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge.
Wetland Bird Survey
The abundance of the EA Light-bellied Brent 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 EA Light-bellied Brent Geese are undertaken annually at Lindisfarne, Northumberland, with counts carried out between September and March. 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 2019/20 [added October 2020]
Age assessments of East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Geese are regularly undertaken at Lindisfarne (Northumberland), the key site for these geese in Britain. In 2019/20, a number of assessments were carried out of flocks located at the site between October 2019 and January 2020, with the resulting breeding success ranging from 27.8% and 61.6% young.
One assessment made in October 2019 comprised a particularly good sample of 2,040 geese of which 37.5% were young birds. Because of the large sample size, this age assessment has been selected as the estimate of breeding success for the birds wintering in Britain during the 2019/20 winter. The result is significantly higher than that of the previous winter (5.9% in 2018/19) and is the highest recorded since records began for Lindisfarne in the early 1990s (Figure 1). A brood size assessment was also made of the same flock, which yielded an average brood size of 3.18 young per successful pair for the 239 families assessed, this also being higher than the previous year (2.50).
Figure 1. Percentage of young (columns) and mean brood size (line) of East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Geese made in Britain, 1992/93–2019/20. Note: only a small sample size was assessed in 2017/18 and the data in that year were not thought to be representative; no data were available for 2003/04 or 2004/05; mean brood size data were not available for every year.
Results from age assessments made of the East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose population suggest that 2019 was the best breeding year on record, for both the birds wintering in Britain (Figure 1) and for the population as a whole (Figure 2).
Combined age assessments from Denmark and Britain resulted in an overall breeding success of 40.1% young and a mean brood size of 3.12 young per successful pair. Across the 40 years of data collation for the whole population, there have only been two other seasons when 30% or more young was recorded: 30.0% in 1985/86 and 33.9% in 1993/94. Similarly, only two other years have seen a mean brood size of over 3.0 young: 3.3 young in 1996/97 and 3.6 young in 2010/11 (Figure 2): the higher percentage of young recorded in 2019 compared with these two earlier years, suggest that more pairs bred successfully in 2019, but with slightly fewer young produced per pair than in 1996 and 2010.
Figure 2. Percentage young (columns) and mean brood size (line) for the East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose population, 1980/81–2019/20 (data provided by Aarhus University).
Whilst data from censuses carried out in winter 2019/2020 are still being processed, early indications suggest that the good breeding success of 2019 has significantly increased the population size. An overall estimate of 13,800 was recorded in the autumn, representing a 42% increase compared to the previous year (9,700) and the highest estimate to date (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Population estimates for the East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Goose, 1980/81–2019/20 (Clausen et al. 1998; Clausen & Craggs 2018; unpublished data courtesy of P. Clausen & A. Craggs).
Clausen, P., J. Madsen, S.M. Percival, D. O’Connor & G.Q.A. Anderson. 1998. Population Development and Changes in Winter Site Use by The Svalbard Light-Bellied Brent Goose, Branta bernicla hrota 1980–94. Biological Conservation 84: 157–165. doi:10.1016/S0006-3207(97)00097-9
Clausen, P. & A. Craggs 2018. East Atlantic (Greenland/Svalbard) Light-bellied Brent Branta bernicla hrota. pp. 90–92 in Fox, A.D. & Leafloor, J.O.: A Global Audit of the Status and Trends of Arctic and Northern Hemisphere Goose Populations (Component 2: Population accounts). Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna: Akureyri, Iceland.
Our thanks go to all the counters across the flyway who collect the age assessment data, and to our colleagues at Aarhus University, Denmark, for providing much of the information used in this report.
Previous annual results will be archived here.
2017/18 Results: few data collected, no report produced
Denny, M.J.H., P. Clausen, S.M. Percival, G.Q.A. Anderson, K. Koffiberg & J.A. Robinson. 2004. Light-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota (East Atlantic population) in Svalbard, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain 1960/61 – 2000/01. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge. Download
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