Basin Notes - September 2009

In the Pink

It's that time of the year again when the skies around Montrose are filled with the noisy chevrons of pink-footed geese flighting in and out of the Basin to rest or feed on the surrounding farmland. Winter sees one per cent of the world population of pink footed geese invade Montrose Basin.

The pink-footed geese or "pinks" start to arrive back at the Basin in mid-September after spending the summer on their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland. They will then spend the next seven to eight months moving around the UK with large numbers working their way down from Scotland to south of the Wash and north Norfolk, which at the moment seem to be the lowest part of their range.

Pinks are very loyal to their traditional roost sites, even with around an eightfold increase in the population since the 1950s its still unlikely for them to start a new roost site in this area of Scotland.

This loyalty to a number of sites positioned along their traditional flyways seems to fit into the wintering strategy of these geese and their need to move in response to adverse weather conditions and food availability (or lack of).

The traditional winter feed of these geese was thought to have been the grazing of saltmarsh but as farming methods improved the geese started to find better feeding over the other side of the seawall. Now their migration through autumn and winter in the UK is in response to local food availability.

Starting with the gleaning of spilt grain from stubbles and the grazing of winter crops in this area, they move south to the Lancashire area to graze on grassland, permanent pasture, arable and root crops.

By mid-winter most "pinks" will end up on the sugar beet fields of Norfolk where this crop provides the highest food density for these geese in the UK able to support between 100-200,000 "pinks".

The pink-footed goose has done very well over the last 50-60 years thanks mainly to the farmers and their winter crops. With the world population of pink-footed geese in the 60s standing around 50,000 birds, this has increased to a population of around 350,000 in 2008.

The overall number of all species of geese wintering in the UK has also increased from around 150,000 in the 60s to over 650,000 in the mid 2000s.

These large numbers of geese roosting at their traditional sites can make one of the UK's most dramatic wildlife sights as thousands of geese leave their roosts at sunrise to flight inland to surrounding farmland to feed.

At Montrose the number of pink-footed geese can reach 45,000 birds, which is well over one per cent of the world's population. The sight and sound of this number of geese leaving on mass on their morning flight is something Montrose Basin is now rightfully famed for.