The aim of the Lesser White-fronted Goose Project is to identify and reduce as many threats as possible. Although some threats have been eliminated or reduced, others remain and have even increased in importance. In the following section we try to list some of the threats that exist and which are being subject to mitigation measures.
The project initiated release of captive-bred birds when the population in Sweden had been subject to decline for many years. The release took place in an area where still a few pairs of Lesser White-fronted Goose were breeding. The supplementation has stopped the decline of the population and a moderate rate of increase has been documented.
A young Lesser White-fronted Goose being released in the Swedish mountainous area to supplement existing population.
Previous high mortality during migration and wintering
When the Lesser White-fronted Goose Project started, large part of the Swedish population migrated along a flyway in Eastern Europe and spent the winter in South-western Asia and probably also South-eastern Europe. During the migration and in the wintering grounds the mortality was high, probably because of extensive hunting and changes in land use causing habitat loss. When the supplementation of the birds breeding in Sweden started, Barnacle Geese were used as foster-parents to avoid the risky eastern migration route. The Barnacle Geese use a western flyway and spend the winter in The Netherlands. The young Lesser White-fronted Geese learn this route, thus avoiding countries with hunting pressure.
|To rebuild a new breeding stock in captivity with the same genetic constitution as wild Lesser White-fronted Geese, young Russian birds have been caught in the wild and transferred to Sweden.
Some birds in the captive breeding stock carried genes of Greater White-fronted Goose
When it was found in 1999 that some birds in the captive breeding stock carried genes of Greater White-fronted Goose, the release of captive-bred birds was halted instantly and the preparation for a new breeding stock was initiated. Genetic experts have expressed different views regarding the threat of a small amount of alien genes of a closely related species (Greater White-fronted Goose) in the captive-reared population. The project, however, following international recommendations and using the precautionary principle, decided to regard the situation as a possible threat and started to import and breed birds from Russia. The cooperation with Russian authorities and scientists has been going on since 2005. The release of captive-bred birds into the wild has been resumed in 2010. These birds, having the same genetic status as Russian Lesser White-fronted Geese, will over time reduce the amount of possible alien genes in the Swedish population.
Predation in the breeding area
The breeding success of all birds breeding on the ground is more or less affected by predation. The Lesser White-fronted Geese is no exception from this rule and the number of fledged goslings in a population is largely determined by the presence of predators and the fluctuating food resources for the predators. Even if predation is a natural factor affecting the geese, the Swedish population is so small that each individual is important.
|A Lesser White-fronted Goose killed by a White-tailed Eagle in 2012. The bird is in heavy moulting, which can be seen by the new primary feathers, with blue, pointed prongs.
In the mountainous areas, the Red Fox has increased significantly in numbers during the last decades. This has caused a reduction in numbers of some specialized alpine species like the Polar Fox. Experiences from Norway indicate that intensive Red Fox hunting may have a significant positive effect on the breeding success of the Lesser White-fronted Goose. The Swedish project therefore intends to support an increase in hunting pressure on Red Fox in the breeding area.
During 2012 it was discovered that predation from raptors, primarily White-tailed Eagle, on moulting adult Lesser White-fronted Geese is more extensive than has been known before. During summertime this year, a White-tailed Eagle was observed to focus on geese incapable of flying during moulting. The Lesser White-fronted Geese project now considers different actions to reduce the risk for adult geese being killed by eagles during their moult.
Disturbance in the breeding area
The Lesser White-fronted Geese in Sweden are very shy during the breeding season. Fishing along the shorelines often takes place in the zone where nests are located or where the broods are looking for food. If scared, a female goose sitting on the eggs may abandon the nest. To reduce disturbances, fishing from boats or land therefore has been banned in several lakes where geese are breeding.
Fishing from boats take place in nearly all lakes within the breeding area. Breeding geese are mainly disturbed by fishing close to the shoreline. Observations indicate that extensive disturbances may take place in connection with activities related to reindeer farming, particularly when off-road vehicles are used near the lakes.
The Lesser White-fronted Goose project is currently involved in discussions with relevant authorities about possible ways of reducing disturbances from open-air activities in the main breeding area. Even if most people enjoying outdoor activities behave exemplary and do not cause problems for geese or other species, there are cases each year when breeding or moulting geese are disturbed.
The project also intends to have a dialogue with the Sami villages concerned about ways of reducing disturbing activities as much as possible.
Increased goose hunting in wintering areas
One of the main reasons for guiding the Lesser White-fronted Geese to wintering areas in The Netherlands was the fact that the risk of being shot in connection with goose hunting was low. The hunting pressure on geese in this country has been low for many years due to decisions taken by authorities. In recent times, however, the costs for compensating farmers for damages caused by geese have increased drastically and therefore large-scale geese hunting will be allowed.
This development will increase the risk for geese being shot by mistake. Hunting on other geese species may also cause disturbances to Lesser White-fronted Geese and force them to visit risky places. Through a dialogue with authorities and hunting as well as bird protection organizations in The Netherlands, the Lesser White-fronted Goose project intend to support measures that will, as much as possible, prevent goose hunting from having a detrimental effect on wintering Lesser White-fronted Geese.
The quality of the moulting areas
The moulting areas are very important for geese. During the moult, birds are very vulnerable as they are incapable of flying. A site for moulting must be protected from predators and offer ample food resources. Today, little is known about the behaviour of the Swedish Lesser White-fronted Geese during moult and about the sites they use. The project therefore has started to identify these sites.
During part of the moult, the birds are incapable of flying. For that reason they prefer to graze close to water where they can swim when being threatened by ground living predators. The photo shows a lake used during moult where the shoreline is intensively grazed by geese, which is indicated by large amounts of droppings and moulted feathers.
Two key sites are known, one of which is located in the outskirts of the breeding area and the other one in Lillfjärden Bay in the town of Hudiksvall. The latter site is special as the moulting site is bordering a recreation area which attracts geese and ducks. This site is used by several geese species, including many hundreds of moulting Greylag Geese, which compete for food resources. The project has initiated a dialogue with local authorities about measures that could facilitate Lesser White-fronted Geese moulting.
The first-mentioned site is a small lake located between the low alpine heath and the alpine birch forest. Probably Lesser White-fronted Geese want to have access to bushy areas or trees surrounding lakes to escape raptors. At the same time there must also be open areas suitable for grazing. Lakes offering these qualities are also attractive for sport fishing during the moulting period. As the birds are very sensitive during moult, this could cause a conflict of interests. The ambition is to locate and protect all moulting sites.
The quality of the staging grounds
During spring and autumn migration several sites in Sweden are used by Lesser White-fronted Geese. A few localities are used by large numbers of individuals. Most of these sites are already protected and the management includes consideration to Lesser White-fronted Geese. The management of such key sites must be regarded as a matter of priority.
There are probably still some unidentified staging grounds in Sweden, particularly sites which are used during the spring migration just before arrival in the breeding areas. The ambition is to find these sites. It is assumed that the geese spend considerable time here in years with late snowmelt, when ice still covers the breeding sites. During this time, access to areas which provide suitable feeding is important, as it affects the condition of the birds when they start breeding. Probably there are several sites where traditional agricultural land-management practices has been abandoned, resulting in encroachment of shrubs and trees. To identify these sites and resume previous land use is regarded as a priority.
A flock of geese in The Netherlands. In wintertime, birds breeding in Sweden spend much time on grassland areas close to the Atlantic sea. The geese are restricted to a small number of key sites during the winter and the conservation of these sites is of crucial importance for the population. Photo: Eric Menkveld