Many have appreciated the early efforts made by the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management to engage in saving a threatened bird species through the Lesser White-fronted Goose project. But throughout the years, a number of organizations and private persons, both inside and outside Sweden, have expressed doubts about the actions taken to preserve the species as a breeding bird in Sweden.
Photo: Lesser White-fronted Goose project
Some have meant that all available resources should be devoted to actions along the south-eastern flyway, which includes stop-over sites in e.g. the Baltic states, Russia, Hungary and wintering sites in Greece, a route used by i.a. the population breeding in Norway. But the main criticism refers to two other areas. One deals with the ethical and scientific merits to promote a south-western flyway and the other one has reference to possible implications linked to the genetic background of birds that have been released.
|There have been clear differences in views about the priority when it comes to restoration of the population in Fennoscandia. The strongest opponents to a shift in flyway claim that such a measure can not be contested even if the survival of a species is at stake. Others mean that the question of flyway should be secondary to other issues.
The south-western flyway
The south-western migration route lacks according to some people all historical background and should therefore be regarded as an unacceptable manipulation. Those who have defended the use of Barnacle Geese as foster parents and consequently promoted a migration route to The Netherlands, claim that this route may well have existed historically for birds breeding in Fennoscandia. The south-eastern flyway still offers many dangers to migrating Lesser White-fronted Geese. High mortality has been confirmed through the banding of geese breeding in Norway, illegal hunting being the most probable reason.
To guide geese and cranes to safer wintering sites, e.g. by the use of ultra-light aircrafts, has successfully been applied in other nature conservation project, mainly in USA.
The number of observations of Lesser White-fronted Geese in south-western Europe made before the existence of the Swedish project indicates that some birds from Scandinavia already used to visit this region during wintertime. In 2011 a group of experts evaluated these reports and came to the conclusion that the most likely explanation to the observations is that Lesser White-fronted Geese have been diverted from their Central European migration route by joining other geese species. However, the existence of a proper south-western migration route could not be ruled out.
Heated discussions about release of geese
When it comes to the release of Lesser White-fronted Geese, the discussions at times have been heated. According to some, the released geese behave abnormally and constitute a risk for transmitting diseases. Above all, however, the criticism deals with the potential risks linked to the fact that some birds in the captive breeding stock carried genes of Greater White-fronted Goose. Among genetic experts there have been different views about whether this constitutes a possible threat to wild Lesser White-fronted Geese within and outside Sweden and also whether this is an issue of priority when it comes to conservation of the species. The existence of Greater White-fronted Goose genes and also the historical background of the captive stock have caused some people to claim that the stock does not represent the original Fennoscandian population from a genetic perspective. On the other hand, it has been argued that the small geese populations in Sweden and Norway may face problems linked to inbreeding and that the release of new birds would reduce such a risk. Some genetic experts underline the fact that genes from the original Swedish geese population most likely are represented in the wild population of today. This fact means more than the possible consequences of a small proportion of genes from Greater White-fronted Goose. For a long time, there was a demand from various quarters to catch or remove the whole Swedish population from the wild. Support for such actions could also be found in a statement made by the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species in 2005.
|By analyzing blood samples it is possible to detect occurrence of alien genes in the genetic make-up of a particular specimen. But there are no methods that allow us to unambiguously exclude the possibilities of occurrence of such genes.
Different events have contributed to the fact that the genetic aspects have been defused in the conservation of the Lesser White-fronted Geese today. An independent genetic expert engaged by AEWA has come to the conclusion that the supplemented Swedish population does not constitute a negative factor requiring action in relation to the conservation of other Lesser White-fronted Geese populations. The same report concludes that the possible element of alien genes will be diluted if the release of Lesser White-fronted Geese based on the new stock continues. The fact that natural hybridisation quite frequently takes place between many species of ducks and geese have contributed to a more relaxed discussion on genetics and the risk of negative effects.
The demand for a removal of the whole Swedish population has disappeared in the debate. In the National Action Plan for the species, the Swedish EPA has come to the conclusion that the merits linked to the Swedish population make up for possible risks following a small genetic element of an alien species. One conclusion shared by most people is that there are no reliable methods that allow us to exclude the possibilities of presence of alien genes. To catch Swedish Lesser White-fronted Geese and carry out expensive genetic analyses can therefore not be justified from a desire to purify the population from possible genes from Greater White-fronted Goose. Today, more than earlier, there is a greater international acceptance for the ambition expressed by the Swedish Greater White-fronted Goose project to reach a favourable conservation status for the species through release of captive-bred birds, inasmuch as the stock since several years have been based on Russian birds caught in the wild.
It is most likely that the direction of the project to combine a south-western migration route with a supplementation through release of captive-bred birds have been crucial for the survival and growth of the population. The project acts totally in line with the National Action Plan for the species, which i.a. proposes supplementation of the wild population from the new stock.