10. August 2015

Islay international workshop


Participants at the Islay workshop:
List of participants

Islay workshop

Islay workshop


Briefings and other documents discussed at the workshop

Programme for the workshop
Background briefing on Canada Geese in Greenland



(All <1 MB unless otherwise indicated)

Day 1

What we do and don’t know about the dynamics of the Greenland White-fronted Goose population: 1 – Tony Fox – Denmark.pdf (3.6 MB)

Country summaries: current conservation issues
Ireland: 2 – David Norris & David Tierney – GWfG in Ireland.pdf
Northern Ireland: 3 – Ian Enlander – Northern Ireland.pdf
Wales: 4 – Matt Murphy Greenland Whitefronts in Wales.pdf
Scotland: 5 – Douse – Scotland review.ppt.pdf (1.6 MB)
Iceland: 7 – Einar Þorleifsson – GWfG in Iceland.pdf (2 MB)
Greenland: 8 – Christian Glahder – Greenland.ppt (1 MB)
Canada Geese in Greenland: 6 – Canada Geese in Greenland & N America.pdf (1.2 MB)

Main threats to the population
Introduction: Stroud – Intro to Session 2 on threats and their reduction.pdf


Day 2

Managing wintering sites for Greenland White-fronted Geese
National policy framework for goose management in Scotland: 1a – Barbara Bremner – Scottish National Goose Policy.pdf
Islay Local Goose Management Scheme: 1b – Bill Dundas – Islay Goose Management Scheme.pdf
Management regimes and key issues at Gruinart, Islay: 3 – James How Whitefronts at Gruinart, Islay.pdf (4 MB)
Management regimes and key issues on Tiree: 4 – John Bowler – Whitefronts on Tiree.pdf (4 MB)
Management regimes and key issues at Loch Lomond NNR: 5 – Tim Jacobs – Whitefronts at Loch Lomond.pdf (3 MB)

Day 3

Conservation actions and responses
The role of AEWA: 1 – Sergey Dereliev – Action planning under AEWA.pdf
Introduction to the Action Plan: Stroud – Intro to Action Plan.pdf (1.5 MB)

Concluding statement

GWfG international workshop – Final Conclusions v6.2.doc
GWfG international workshop – Final Conclusions v6.2.pdf


Conclusions of the second international workshop on Greenland White-fronted Geese – Islay, 24-26 February 2009




The population of White-fronted Geese that breed in Greenland, winter in Ireland and the UK and migrate through Iceland in spring and autumn, is amongst the smallest of goose populations in the world. The geese have particular cultural significance to human communities throughout their range, where they associate with peatlands and form an integral part of the local sense of place, celebrated in literature and art. They have been described as one of Europe’s most iconic birds.

An international workshop on the conservation of Greenland White-fronted Geese under the auspices of the Species Action Framework was convened by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study (GWGS) on Islay, Scotland from 24–26 February 2009. Fifty participants from Ireland, UK (including Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Iceland, Greenland, Denmark and Germany attended, with preparatory inputs from Canada. The meeting was a response to recent rapid declines in numbers of these rare geese which have a limited geographic range and are Endangered under IUCN Red Data List criteria. The workshop objective was to share information and assessments of current threats, and develop an international Action Plan summarising means to reduce or eliminate these.

Since the first international workshop in Wexford, Ireland in 1992, several conservation actions have been implemented (e.g. protected area networks in Greenland, Ireland and UK and the cessation of autumn hunting in Iceland in 2006, where c.3,300 were shot annually in 1995-2006). Islay participants recalled the Wexford workshop conclusion that the then population level of 30,000 represented an absolute minimum population size. After 1992, the population peaked at 35,600 in 1999, but rapidly fell to 23,200, based on the most recent March 2009 international census. The Islay Workshop agreed that urgent action needs to be taken to halt and reverse the current decline and, noting that priorities for action will differ in different parts of the world range, concluded that the causes of the population decline were:.

  • Numbers of birds hatched each year (recruitment) has been low and less than the numbers dying (mortality, which has not changed since the 1980s), especially since 1995.
  • The causes of low recruitment remain unknown, but may relate either to consequences of increased snow-fall in April and May since 1995, and/or the consequences of inter-specific competition with rapidly increasing numbers of breeding Canada Geese in Greenland (which have colonised west Greenland from northern America). Other unknown factors may also be of significance.



The long-term goal is to restore and maintain the Greenland White-fronted Geese to favourable conservation status throughout its range. The short term aim is to identify the causes of current low productivity responsible for recent rapid declines in the population, and (where feasible) establish measures to halt the decline.

1. The top priority action is to investigate the factors acting on geese on the breeding grounds responsible for currently reducing the annual production of young.
It was concluded however, that even knowing the causes of low productivity, it was unlikely that reproductive success could be enhanced in the short-term. Accordingly it is essential that measures are taken:

2. to ensure that geese leave wintering/staging areas for Greenland in optimal condition for successful breeding;

3. to minimise all additional sources of mortality;

4. to minimise local impacts on geese (e.g. disturbance or habitat change) particularly in smaller flocks or those with restricted distribution to avoid further flock extinctions and contraction of range; and

5. to maintain and further develop monitoring and research programmes to provide necessary data and information concerning the current conservation status of the population.



These objectives will be delivered through the following actions:
a) Understanding causes of decline
· Investigate and assess factors restricting productivity, through an international research programme, investigating a) potential competitive interactions with Canada Geese in west Greenland; and b) consequences of greater spring snow-fall in recent years.

b) Optimising condition

· Develop the existing international network of conservation management areas, especially on the staging grounds, to ensure that all key sites are appropriately protected and managed.

c) Minimising mortality

· Take all possible steps to eliminate avoidable sources of mortality and disturbance, particularly shooting and collisions with man-made structures.

d) Preventing flock extinctions

· Assess the need for, and develop as appropriate, local habitat management measures on the wintering grounds so as to optimise quality of agricultural feeding areas, and thus avoid further flock extinctions.

e) Population monitoring

· Maintain the long-term marking, re-sighting and counting programmes at the main Irish wintering site of Wexford.
· Maintain the annual international population census, improving coverage where deficient, and collecting more extensive assessments of age-ratios throughout the range.
· Enhance knowledge of numbers and distribution on the staging and breeding areas to develop site safeguard programmes

Many of the actions above will be enhanced by developing better awareness of the conservation needs of the geese. In particular, there is a need to develop engagement with people likely to come into contact with the geese at different stages of their life-cycle, especially with farming communities and hunters. There is particular scope to develop educational programmes related to the geese as outlined in the Annex below. Further needs identified by the workshop are summarised in the Annex, together with more information on the priorities above.


Future international co-operation: next steps

The four Range States agreed to work together to (i) halt and reverse declines in the population and (ii) establish an international Steering Group to co-ordinate actions. The Steering Group will finalise an international action plan in consultation with other interested parties, agree a process for its formal conclusion, and promote its implementation throughout the Range States. This will include the development of a costed work-plan relating to projects identified as priorities.

Bilateral and other intergovernmental arrangements for research and conservation projects involving more than one Range State will need to be established to complement the action plan.

Wide organisational support for the plan is important: the workshop requested SNH to approach relevant organisations, including those represented at the meeting, to request their support for the international action planning process.

Participants thanked SNH and GWGS for their initiative in convening the workshop and considered it timely to meet again in 2012 to review progress. Until then, they agreed to maintain regular contact through e-mail and web-based media[1].





Background – Greenland White-fronted Geese

In autumn, the entire population migrates from breeding areas in west Greenland, through Iceland to wintering grounds in Scotland and Ireland, usually arriving early to mid-October. The Wexford Slobs in Ireland and the Isle of Islay in Scotland together hold over two-thirds of the population in winter, while other flocks are scattered across west and north Scotland, and at a selection of locations in Ireland. The distribution is highly oceanic, linked to what was ancestrally their peat bog habitat, although now they feed most commonly on improved grasslands, there is usually a link to traditional peat bog or loch roost sites (as on Islay). In early-April, geese return north once more, first to Iceland where they ‘refuel’ in April, before migrating back to Greenlandic breeding grounds in early May.

Numbers declined from between 17,500-23,000 in the 1950s to 14,300-16,600 by the mid-1970s, which led to protection under the EU Birds Directive and cessation of hunting in Scotland and Ireland after 1982. The population increased to 35,600 by the late 1990s, since when numbers have dropped to 23,200 (March 2008) due to reduced production of young (annual adult survival has not changed).

Population size trend of Greenland White-fronted Geese


Research and conservation priorities

The cultural importance of Greenland White-fronted Geese

1. Greenland White-fronted Geese have had a very long association (known to extend over a thousand years) with human communities throughout their range. Their distinctive habitats and behaviour help give a sense of identity to the landscapes in which they occur. They occur in literature and art, and have been described as one of Europe’s most iconic birds. These associations provide a range of cultural, educational and economic opportunities, especially the potential to:
a. develop educational links between schools in different parts of the range, for example through twinning programmes;
b. develop educational resources linking geese, their habitats and life-cycle to the school curriculum; and
c. be a flagship species not only for sustainable wildlife tourism, but also for promoting other aspects of environmental education.


People and geese

2. Geese co-exist with people through most of their world range, and depend on farmers in Iceland, Ireland and the UK to sustain the agricultural landscapes to which they have become adapted. The workshop welcomed recent progress to establish local goose management schemes in Scotland which have resolved the acute conflicts of the 1980s. The close involvement of the community in the development of these schemes has been crucial to their success.

3. The adoption of the Scottish Goose Policy Framework for goose management in 2000 and which has been implemented in close co-operation with local communities and stakeholders at all levels, has been a success. The review of the Framework (due to report in August 2010), provides an important opportunity to fine-tune policies with respect to Greenland White-fronted Geese and Scottish agriculture. In particular, the review should address the need for policies to sustain smaller, traditional flocks whose viability is crucial to maintain the size and range of the overall population.

4. In both Ireland and the UK there is a need to examine the need for local, governmental support mechanisms at smaller, un-designated sites.

5. Educational materials that readily summarise key issues for Greenland White-fronted Goose conservation should be developed and disseminated to farmers, hunters and those in local government or elsewhere whose activities may influence the geese or their habitats.


Reducing sources of mortality

6. With low annual productivity it is critically important to reduce sources of mortality. This will conserve the very small numbers of successful breeders that produce subsequent generations and help restore the population to former levels. To this end, the workshop concluded that hunting cannot currently be undertaken on a sustainable basis and any kill would exacerbate the current unfavourable conservation status of the population.

7. Iceland was congratulated for its protection in 2006 of the population which has removed a major source of mortality, and was urged to ensure that this legal protection was fully respected.

8. Greenland announced proposals to provide protection throughout the months when the geese are present on the breeding areas to be effective from April 2009. This was highly welcomed.

9. The workshop congratulated the wildfowling clubs and others for their long-standing voluntary suspension on shooting of Greenland White-fronted Geese on the Dyfi Estuary, Wales which had probably avoided that flock becoming extinct. However, the geese remain legal quarry in Wales. Birds using the traditional wintering site of Grindon Loch in northern England are also still legal quarry. Government authorities in Wales and England were urged to remove Greenland White-fronted Geese from the quarry list in those countries at the earliest opportunity.

10. Man-made structures, for example, inappropriately sited on-shore or off-shore wind-turbines represent a potential source of mortality, and the meeting concluded that full environmental impact assessments based on thorough survey information should always be required with respect to any potential new turbine development in areas used by the geese. This would help remove potential conflicts at planning stages.


Research and monitoring: wintering grounds

11. Research at the main Irish wintering site of the Wexford Slobs by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) since 1983 was recognised as of fundamental importance to understanding the status, trends and dynamics of the population. The importance to the conservation of Greenland White-fronted Geese of sustaining this research effort cannot be over-stated. The workshop highly commended NPWS for this sustained effort and strongly urged that priority be given to its continuation.

12. A long-term strategy for ringing at flyway-scale should be developed which will deliver essential demographic data. The development of a programme of marking in Scotland, complementary to that at Wexford and at a location which allows for sustained resighting effort, is a high priority. The workshop welcomed the SNH’s announcement that funding had been secured for such a three-year programme of marking.

13. The international population census established by NPWS and GWGS in 1982, and supported by other organisations and large numbers of volunteer participants, has resulted in detailed understanding of the distribution and abundance of the geese on their wintering grounds. NPWS and GWGS were urged to continue their efforts as a necessary basis for conservation policy both in relation to protected areas and actions for the population. Resources to that end need to be secured.
Future priorities are:
· The need for continuity and more regular coverage of Irish wintering sites away from Wexford.
· The need for better information on age-ratios at more sites.
· The need to better use monitoring data to identify and designate protected areas and ensure their appropriate management.
· Understanding mechanisms affecting small sites (the use of main and alternative feeding and roosting areas) based on an analysis of the characteristics of such sites.


Research and monitoring: migratory staging areas

14. In Iceland, the need for a good inventory of feeding and roosting sites was recognised as an important need.

15. The establishment of a network of protected key sites and which should include disturbance-free areas, especially in autumn, is important to complement sites elsewhere in the range.

16. Systematic collection of data on age-ratios during autumn staging would provide very valuable information on productivity, and would complement assessments made on the wintering grounds following further migration.


Research and monitoring: breeding grounds

17. The very rapid decline of the population is known to be the result of reduced productivity in recent years. Too few young geese are produced each year to balance losses, although the ultimate cause of this failure is unknown. There is an urgent need to investigate possible factors impacting on productivity, in particular potential competitive interactions with the increasing population of Canada Geese in west Greenland and the consequences of greater spring snow-fall in recent years (the latter based on archives of remote sensing images). Such research is urgently needed to help develop policies that may assist in addressing ultimate drivers of population decline and should be initiated as soon as it possible.


Protected areas

18. The workshop discussed the critical need to protect and appropriately manage key sites for Greenland White-fronted Geese in all Range States. It noted that major progress had been made in protecting key areas on the wintering grounds in the last decade.

19. The Ramsar Convention, to which all four Range States are Contracting Parties, was identified as providing an appropriate international framework for the protection of key sites. For the UK and Ireland, the EU Directive on the conservation of wild birds and its Special Protection Areas (SPAs) also provides a valuable legal framework.

20. A number of issues were identified for action:
a. There is a long-established network of Ramsar sites in Greenland that include a significant proportion of the breeding areas. Most Ramsar sites are in the southern part of the breeding range used by Scottish birds. Survey and designation of sites in the northern part of the range and holding internationally important numbers at Svartenhuk, Nugssuaq, Sarqaqdalen and Disko would benefit Irish-wintering birds.
b. Iceland was encouraged to designate key wetland roosting sites under the Ramsar Convention to complement the international network established by Greenland, Ireland and the UK, and so as protect them from land-use change and disturbance. There is a need for better statutory ‘tools’ – through national legislation – to help ensure the appropriate management of any such designated sites.
c. The UK was encouraged to keep its established national network of EU SPAs under review and to ensure these are appropriately managed.
d. Ireland was encouraged to complete its establishment of a national network of SPAs for Greenland White-fronts, noting that some important sites have already been designated (including as Ramsar sites), and that further sites are in the process of being designated.
e. Appropriate management planning is needed at all sites to ensure the maintenance of favourable conditions for Greenland White-fronted Geese, especially in the context of ensuring that geese leave their wintering and staging areas for Greenland in optimal condition for successful breeding.

[1] e.g. via http://gwfg-conservation.wikispaces.com

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