From Siberia to the Solent - article by Pro Vision head of ecology Louisa Jones.

3rd December, 2019

While we are digging out our winter woollies, other species are flying to the UK to enjoy our milder climate and escape sub-zero temperatures. Brent Geese are arriving in large numbers on the Solent coast from their breeding grounds in Siberia.

It is estimated more than 29,000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese flock every winter to the Solent - 10-13% of the world population and 30% of the UK population (Stillman et at 2009). Internationally important sites for Brent Geese include Beaulieu estuary, Southampton Water, Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester harbours. Fast-fliers, they leave Siberia in mid-September and arrive on our shores from October.

Due to large numbers gathering at just a few sites, harbours and estuaries in the Solent are designated Special Protection Areas. In nature conservation terms, the species is regarded as vulnerable because of the relatively small size of the world population.

The coastal birds spend the spring and summer months breeding in the tundra of Siberia before making the arduous trip south for a warmer winter. They make this 2,500-mile migration in family groups and stay together from one breeding season to the next.

The Brent Goose is our smallest goose and characteristically dark with a patch of white on the neck and rump. Two varieties over-winter in the UK, the Dark-bellied Brent Goose is seen in the south while Light-bellied Brent Goose flies to the north of the country.

In the UK, the coastal birds forage on eelgrass and seaweed. The Solent is an internationally important wildlife resource but is also a busy waterway with port-related industry and a popular recreational area. During high tides, geese can be squeezed out and large flocks move to nearby grassland. The fields surrounding the estuaries are, therefore, vital for sustaining the population.

Brent Geese can also come into conflict with local landowners and potential development projects with coastal land attractive for new housing projects. This can result in loss of habitat for the birds and increased disturbance from dogs and walkers.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has produced a ‘Solent Waders and Brent Goose Strategy’ to identify key areas for these species to help ensure they remain available in the long term and the populations are maintained. Any new developments within these areas require specialist winter bird surveys as part of applying for planning permission.

Brent Geese are a characteristic bird of the Solent and will be here until April when they make the long journey back to their northern summer grounds. The large flocks are a must-see during any winter trip to the coast.

The team at Pro Vision has in-house expertise in winter bird surveys. Our ecologists use the survey information to help developers avoid impact on these winter visitors. If you would like to know more or to discuss a specific project, please contact us on: 01794 368698 or info@pro-vision.co.uk