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 II (Part B) UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern) Red UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) huntable in England and Wales during the open season * assessed at species level Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Flyway population size (CSR 7; Wetlands International 2015) 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. 2020) 25-year trend (1992/93-2017/18) = 175% increase
10-year trend (2007/08-2017/18) = 57% increase
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, 2004/05-2019/20.
Season Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 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.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.
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. 2020. 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 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 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 2019/20 [October 2020]
In 2019/20, the breeding success of European White-fronted Geese wintering in Britain was assessed amongst flocks at WWT Slimbridge (Gloucestershire), Holkham Fresh Marsh (Norfolk) and RSPB North Warren (Suffolk). Overall, 551 geese were aged of which 19.1% were young birds, this being slightly lower than during the previous winter (23.1% young) and also the previous ten-year mean (2009/10–2018/19, 23.4% ± 2.30 SE) (Figure 1) (Table 1).
Figure 1. The percentage of young for European White-fronted Geese in Britain, 2005/06–2019/20. The sample size is given above the column.
Table 1. The percentage of young and mean brood size of European White-fronted Geese recorded at wintering sites in Britain, 2019/20.
Site Number of geese aged (no. of young) % young Mean brood size (number of families) WWT Slimbridge 141 (20) 14.2 2.50 (8) Holkham Fresh Marsh 130 (26) 20.0 1.77 (13) RSPB North Warren 280 (59) 21.1 — Overall 551 (105) 19.1 2.05 (21)
Since the early 1990s, regular assessments of both the percentage young and mean brood size of wintering European White-fronted Goose flocks have only been made at WWT Slimbridge (Figure 2). In 2019/20, results indicated that the percentage of young amongst flocks at the site was lower than the previous winter (14.2% cf 17.4% in 2018/19), whilst the mean brood size for the eight families assessed was 2.50 young per successful pair, similar to that recorded in 2018/29 (2.46).
In comparison, the percentage of young recorded at the wintering sites in Suffolk and Norfolk was higher than that recorded at WWT Slimbridge, with 21.1% and 20.0% young, respectively, recorded among flocks (Table 1). Brood size counts were also made at Holkham Fresh Marsh (Norfolk), where 13 families were assessed yielding a mean brood size of 1.77 young per successful pair
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, 1993/94–2019/20. No data were collected during the winters of 1994/95 or 2003/04.
Results from age assessments of European White-fronted Geese made at wintering sites in Britain indicated that breeding success in 2019 was slightly lower than the previous season and also the previous ten-year mean. However, as sample sizes assessed each year in Britain are only small, annual variation across between years is likely to be high.
Nonetheless, preliminary data from across the flyway similarly suggests a very slight drop in breeding success compared with 2018. Age ratio counts undertaken across the main wintering range of the Whitefront population – in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK – produced an overall percentage young of 12.4%, compared with 12.6% for 2018. Although this is close to the previous five-year average (11.7%), when viewed across the longer-term, breeding success in 2019 was still comparatively low. Years of over 20% young have become scarce, with the winter of 2005/06 being the last time this occurred. However, it is thought that the current level of productivity is likely to keep the Baltic-North Sea population of White-fronted Geese (of which the birds wintering in Britain are a part) at least at a stable level and may, possibly, exceed annual mortality.
As always, our thanks go to the dedicated team of counters for all their help collecting age assessment records and also to our colleagues at SOVON, The Netherlands, and Kees Koffijberg for providing the international data.
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