Caerlaverock prepares for return of Barnacle Geese


Staff at WWT Caerlaverock are "excited but anxious" about the return of their wintering Barnacle Goose population which was devastated by avian flu last winter.

Thousands of geese were lost across the Solway Firth and have now begun to return for the winter as they head south from breeding grounds in Svalbard. Site manager David Pickett said there were mixed emotions after a "tough winter" last time around.

Staff at WWT Caerlaverock are "excited but anxious" about the return of their wintering Barnacle Geese (Mark Wilson).

When the reserve was set up in 1971, the Barnacle Goose population was 3,700, but that number had risen to 40,000 by last year. It has been estimated avian flu has cut those numbers by a third.

Mr Pickett said the reserve was "braced and waiting" to see how many would return and how they would get on. He added that this year all they could do was try to provide the best surroundings possible for the birds.

"We manage the reserve to give the geese undisturbed, good feeding when they arrive here in the winter," he said. "That means getting the grass and the fields cut and then grazed so it's at the right length for the geese to make maximum use of it."

The first birds have started to arrive, prompting some nervous anticipation. He said the last winter was one that no-one would forget after the seriousness of the outbreak, described at the time as "unprecedented", started to emerge.

"It was pretty grim really, it was a situation that gradually grew on us," he said. "We started finding small numbers of dead barnacle geese and then the numbers increased and increased as the winter went on.

"What we ended up needing to do was monitor the progress of the disease so we were doing regular counts to see how many fresh carcasses were appearing. We are now waiting to see what happens. The first about 1,000 birds have turned up here just in the last week or so.

"We will be monitoring them to see whether we start to get any fatalities. We will be testing birds to see if they are dying of avian flu and we are just going to have to wait and see what actually happens."