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Scotlands Bean Geese
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The Bean Goose breeds across northern Eurasia from the highlands of Norway to the Kamchatka peninsula in the east, and at least five races are recognised . In western Europe, the Taiga Bean Goose
from Scandinavia is much less numerous that the Tundra Bean Goose
which breeds in northern Russia . Populations are not easily delimited and the races can be intermingled in autumn and winter. There is, however, a reasonable degree of separation, both
and ecological .
As its name suggests, during the non-breeding season, the Bean Goose has long been associated with man’s cultivated crops and was probably one of the first European geese to adapt to arable crops. In northwest Europe its habitat is still largely arable (although see section on the feeding preferences of the central Scotland flock) and it is often found in mixed feeding flocks with European White-fronted Geese
Numbers of the Tundra Bean Geese appear stable at
600,000 birds [4,5], whilst the Taiga Bean Geese appears to be declining, with
100,000 individuals estimated in the late 1990s  but only
63,000 estimated in the late 2000s [4,5]. Bean Geese are of international importance and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Annex II/I of the EC Birds Directive and Appendix III of the Berne Convention.
The Taiga Bean Goose breeds in the Kola peninsula and taiga areas west as far as Finland, with a breeding range extending south into Norway and Sweden. Non-breeders begin moulting in June, with sub-adults undertaking a moult migration north away from the breeding areas, probably to northern Lapland of the White Sea coasts . The Fennoscandia breeding population moves south through southern Sweden to winter there, in Denmark, northern Germany and The Netherlands . Numbers decline in southern Sweden at times of hard weather, moving first to Denmark and then further south and west. Two flocks, totaling
300 birds winter in the UK, originating from the southern Swedish population , and occupy an important part of the traditional winter range of the species.
Numbers in the UK
There are two British winter flocks which occupy an important part of the traditional winter range of the species. One of these flocks winters on the Slamannan Plateau, Falkirk (see below), and the other in the Yare Valley, Norfolk. Numbers visiting the Yare Valley increased to a peak of 485 birds in 1990/91 but have steadily declined since then. Overall the numbers counted in the UK also increased to a peak in the early 1990s, but have slowly decreased since then (Figure 1) with the Slamannan Plateau now holding the bulk of the birds.
Figure 1. Maximum winter counts of Taiga Bean Geese in Scotland/England, 1949/50 to 2014/15.
Numbers in Scotland
In Scotland, the Bean Goose was regarded as a common winter visitor during the 19th century, being the commonest goose species in many localities . A widespread decline began in the 1860s until, in the early part of the 20th century, only a few winter flocks remained . The number of Bean Geese wintering at the Dee Marshes (Galloway) began to decline from the early 1960s (maximum 240 geese in 1954/55) with the last record being ten birds in 1990/91. The flock appeared to move to the Carron Valley, central Scotland in the 1980s/early 1990s, although there had been earlier records there in the 1940s/50s. The maximum number recorded at Carron Valley was 122 geese in 1987/88. From the late 1980s, the birds were also recorded at the Slamannan Plateau between Cumbernauld and Falkirk and eventually it relocated there altogether (Figure 1). The maximum number recorded at Slamannan was 300 geese in 2005/06 and in 2007/08.
The most recent winter (2016/17) maximum count at Slamannan Plateau was 216 birds (A Maciver).
Figure 2. Maximum winter counts of Taiga Bean Geese at the three principal wintering sites in Scotland, 1949/50 to 2016/17.
Detailed monitoring of the Bean Geese at Slamannan has been carried out since winter 1993/94. The flock numbered around 130-150 birds in the 1990s . During 2005/06 to 2008/09, the population increased to around 250-300 birds, but then stabilised at about 220-260 birds in 2010/11 to 2015/16  but declined to 216 birds in 2016/17 [A Maciver]. This monitoring has also assisted in identifying the most favoured day-time feeding fields and the preferred sites where the geese roost during the night. These data are collected throughout the winter and have identified the geographical locations and habitat preferences of the birds. The results of this work have been used in a variety of other valuable ways, including to:
appraise discussions on threats to the Bean Geese on the Slamannan Plateau and advise the planning authorities and developers in relation to development proposals;
facilitate the preparation and implementation of a Bean Goose Action Plan;
provide the scientific basis for the areas to be included within the the Slamannan Plateau Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA); and,
provide guidance during the development of the Bean Goose Management Scheme.
Development and other threats
The Plateau is subject to steady development pressure. Several areas of forestry were planted in the past, directly reducing the area available for feeding geese and influencing remaining feeding areas through enclosure. In more recent years, applications to plant new forests have decreased. Some of the goose loafing and roosting areas were previously damaged by peat milling operations, although these too have now stopped. Recent proposals have included housing, wind turbines and sewage sludge deposition.
Recreational use is not high, nevertheless walking, cycling, horse riding and bird watching take place. If the level of use by these activities was to increase in an unplanned manner, then it may result in disturbance to the geese. As such, it is vital that contemporary data are available about how the Bean Geese use the Plateau, and which areas are most important for them.
The Bean Goose Action Group and the Bean Goose Action Plan
In recognition of the importance of the Slamannan Plateau for wintering Bean Geese, a group was established in 1994 to represent conservation interests in the area. The broad aims of the Bean Goose Action Group (BGAG) are to help conserve the population of Bean Geese wintering in central Scotland by protecting and managing the habitats used by the geese. The group seeks to minimise potential land use conflicts in the Slamannan Plateau area through the development of land management guidelines to assist industries such as farming, forestry and mineral extraction. It also seeks to influence the practice of planning policies for conserving Bean Geese without discouraging employment prospects or the enhancement of the landscape. The group includes representatives from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Central Scotland Forest Trust (CSFT), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Forest Enterprise (FE), Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Falkirk and North Lanarkshire Councils.
A key mechanism for achieving these aims is the Bean Goose Action Plan, one of many Local Bio-diversity Action Plans of the two unitary authorities involved; Falkirk and North Lanarkshire. The Action Plan is available at the following link:
Both the BGAG and the Bean Goose Action Plan are reliant upon good quality monitoring data.
Slamannan Plateau SSSI and Special Protection Area (SPA)
The monitoring data was also utilised during the notification of parts of the plateau as the Slamannan Plateau SSSI and Special Protection Area (SPA). The process required a robust data-set to validate the selection of some of the parts of the plateau frequented most often by the Bean Geese as nationally and internationally recognised sites for the species. The SSSI was designated in 2006 and the SPA in 2008. For the SPA, the wintering flock of Bean Geese is the notified feature of the site, supporting “
over 53% of the population in Great Britain”.
At the time of designation, the five year mean count (for 2000/01 to 2004/05) was 221 individuals.
Designation as SSSI means that damaging changes in land management can be controlled in part through the provisions of The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, which also relates to other areas notified as SSSIs on the Slamannan Plateau including West Fannyside Moss and Darnrigg Moss.
The boundary of the designated site encompasses some 591.3 ha and includes most of the RSPB Fannyside Reserve (59.2 ha), which is managed mainly for Bean Geese. Further details of the SSSI and the SPA are available at the following links:
Bean Goose Management Scheme
The Slamannan Plateau Bean Goose Management Scheme.was instigated by SNH to support land managers in maintaining suitable habitat conditions for Bean Geese within the Slamannan Plateau SSSI. The scheme ran from March 2006 to April 2008 and is now closed to new entrants but it is hoped that the prescriptions of the scheme will be incorporated in the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Again, this would not be possible without the provision of data that the annual monitoring provides.
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Page updated 15/03/2017
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