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 Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. 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) Least Concern* African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) C1 European status (European Red List of Birds) Least Concern (Europe and EU27)* The Birds Directive (European Commission) Annex III (Part B) UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern) Red UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) Schedule 2 (Part 1); huntable in England and Wales during the open season * assessed at species level Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Flyway population size (CSR 8; Wetlands International 2021) 1,000,000 – 1,200,000 individuals UK estimate (APEP 4) 2,100 individuals GB estimate (Frost et al. 2019) 2,100 individuals UK trend (Frost et al. 2021) 25-year trend (1993/94-2018/19) = 70% decrease
10-year trend (2008/09-2018/19) = 16% decrease
Table 1. Annual estimates of the percentage of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of European White-fronted Goose recorded at key sites in Britain, 2004/05-2020/21.
Season Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 2020/21 23 1.54 2019/20 19.1 2.05 2018/19 23.1 2.46 2017/18 10.8 2.0 2016/17 19.1 2.50 2015/16 16.3 2.20 2014/15 30.7 – 2013/14 28.3 2.17 2012/13 18.8 2.20 2011/12 35.1 – 2010/11 25.9 2.34 2009/10 26.2 – 2008/09 13.2 – 2007/08 24.3 1.90 2006/07 16.7 1.90 2005/06 34.3 3.01 2004/05 27.5 2.42
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.
Frost, T.M., N.A. Calbrade, G.A. Birtles, C. Hall, A.E. Robinson, S.R. Wotton, D.E. Balmer & G.E. Austin. 2021. Waterbirds in the UK 2019/20: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.
Wetlands International. 2021. Waterbird population estimates. Retrieved from http://wpe.wetlands.org/ September 2021.
European White-fronted 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. 2021. Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme: survey results for European White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons. WWT/JNCC/NatureScot, Slimbridge” retrieved from https://monitoring.wwt.org.uk/our-work/goose-swan-monitoring-programme/species-accounts/european-white-fronted-goose/© copyright and database right 2021. 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 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 2020/21 [September 2021]
In 2020/21, the breeding success of European White-fronted Geese wintering in Britain was assessed amongst flocks at WWT Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) only. Due to the assorted restrictions in place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, geese were not checked at any other locations.
Overall, 161 geese were aged, of which, 37 (23.0%) were young birds. Compared with previous years’ data, collected at various sites (see previous results), the 2020/21 result is higher than the previous winter (19.1% young) and slightly higher than the previous ten-year mean (2010/11–2019/20, 22.7% ± 2.31 SE) (Figure 1).
When comparing data for WWT Slimbridge only, the 2020/21 result is notably higher than that for 2019/20 (14.2% young) and slightly higher than the previous ten-year mean (2010/11–2019/20; 21.4% ± 1.60 SE) (Figure 2). Brood size assessments were also undertaken at WWT Slimbridge, with an overall mean brood size of 1.54 young per successful pair recorded for the 24 families assessed (Figure 2). Unlike the percentage young, this result is lower than that recorded in 2019/20 (2.5 young per successful pair) and also the previous ten-year mean (2010/11–2019/20; 2.33 ± 0.06 SE).
Figure 1. The percentage of young for European White-fronted Geese in Britain, 2005/06–2020/21. The sample size of the number of birds aged is given above the column.
Figure 2. The percentage of young (blue column) and mean brood size (red line) of European White-fronted Geese recorded at WWT Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, where data have been collected regularly, 1993/94–2020/21. No data were collected during the winters of 1994/95 or 2003/04.
Results from the 2020/21 surveys in Britain suggest that European White-fronted Geese wintering at WWT Slimbridge experienced a successful breeding season in 2020, although families contained fewer young, on average, than recorded in previous years.
Similarly, data from across the flyway indicate that the population as a whole experienced a good breeding season. Based on a total sample of more than 300,000 individuals aged in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, 20.7% of the birds recorded amongst flocks were young (first-winter), this being the highest percentage recorded since 2005. As is usual, the percentage of young was highest in countries on the southwest of the wintering range: Belgium (30.0% young) and Britain (23.0%).
In 2020, conditions on the breeding grounds in Arctic Russia were seemingly good for breeding geese. Reports from monitoring stations (Soloviev & Tomkovich 2020) suggest that the weather was good, with many areas experiencing above average temperatures for the time of year, and rodents were reported in abundance at some monitoring stations: in years with higher rodent numbers, predators, such as Arctic foxes, are able to exploit this resource and prey less on eggs and young goslings.
As always, our thanks go to the reserve staff at WWT Slimbridge for their help in collecting age assessment records and also to our colleagues at SOVON, The Netherlands, for providing the international data.
Soloviev, M. & P.S. Tomkovich. 2020. Arctic Birds: an international breeding conditions survey. Online database: http://www.arcticbirds.net/. Accessed 08/06/2021.
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
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