The use of the Solway Firth, Britain, by barnacle geese Branta leucopsis Bechst. in relation to refuge establishment and increases in numbers

  • Published source details Owen M., Black J.M., Agger M.K. & Campbell C.R.G. (1987) The use of the Solway Firth, Britain, by barnacle geese Branta leucopsis Bechst. in relation to refuge establishment and increases in numbers. Biological Conservation, 39, 363-81.


Barnacle geese Branta leucopsis hrota breeding in the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) archipelago winter within the Solway Firth region, southwest Scotland. This paper analyses wintering data over a period of 15 years, to examine the influence of establishments of a disturbance-free refuge at Caerlaverock (on the Solway Firth) on the numbers, distribution and feeding habits of the geese.

Caerlaverock became a goose refuge with its declaration as a National Nature Reserve in 1957. Human disturbance (including illegal shooting) was effectively prevented. Management was undertaken to provide increased and better foraging habitat for the geese.

Goose use of the reserve increased markedly following establishment. A primary factor attributed to increasing numbers was a reduction in mortality (much previously due to illegal shooting). A high proportion of birds were accommodated within the reserve, especially in early winter, up to the late 1960s.
As the population increased, however, (from 3,200 in 1970 to 10,500 in 1984), the geese dispersed in greater numbers to other habitats elsewhere on the Solway. The most significant change was an increase in use of arable grassland in spring. The use of cereal stubbles also increased. This was attributed to the saltmarsh at Rockcliffe (the traditional spring haunt) reaching capacity.
The creation and management of the reserve is considered to have achieved its objectives of redistributing the geese and allowing numbers to increase. However, as numbers have dramatically increased, sensitive management over the wintering range of this barnacle goose population is now required to minimise arising conflict with farmers due to crop damage.
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