Slimbridge news

Wonderful winter birdwatching at Slimbridge

Posted on 04 Feb 2019

Located on the banks of the River Severn Slimbridge Wetland Centre is a world-class wetland of great importance to thousands of birds which spend the winter here.

Ducks, geese, swans, and waders all travel for many miles to the sanctuary of the wet grasslands and reedbeds where they can feed and roost. From the selection of hides across the site, many bird species can be seen from wigeon, teal and pintail to lapwing, snipe and water rail some in huge numbers.

Winter is the best time to come to see the spectacle of thousands of birds filling the skies, perhaps being pursued by a peregrine. Slimbridge is also home to two of our rarest and most important species, the white-fronted goose and Bewick’s swan.

Home to wintering white-fronted geese

Here at Slimbridge we are very fortunate to have a flock of white-fronted geese that visits us for the winter months.

At a glance the white-fronted goose looks similar to a greylag goose, with its grey body, brown head, and orange beak, but look closer and you will see that it is smaller and has a white patch around its beak, giving it its name.

Slimbridge is one of only a handful of sites in the UK where you can reliably see white-fronted geese, so next time you visit be sure you get the best views by heading down to the Kingfisher Hide or Holden Tower.

White-fronted geese inspired WWT founder

Back in 1946 when Sir Peter Scott set up the Wildfowl Trust on the land that would become Slimbridge Wetland Centre, he was inspired by the huge flocks of White Fronted Geese that he saw.

White Fronted Geese eat grass, they particularly like the grass that grows in the wet conditions of the Severn Estuary floodplain. This grass is rich and full of nutrients, it is also partially submerged in water and near large bodies of water, providing these birds with safety from predators.

Climate warming means fewer wintering white-fronted geese

Within living memory the numbers of geese wintering at Slimbridge has fallen from around a regular winter population of 3000-4000 (peak of 7600 in 1969/70) to a flock of just around 140 this year. This may seem like bad news, but research has revealed that actually the population as a whole is not declining.

With the climate changing, European winters are getting milder which means the geese don’t need to travel all the way to the UK to find grazing pasture, they can instead stop in mainland Europe where there is enough food for them to eat.

Martin McGill, Senior Reserve Warden at Slimbridge said “I’ve worked at WWT Slimbridge for over 28 years and recall with great fondness enjoying the spectacle, especially the sound of the geese. I was always up for the challenge of counting and searching through huge flocks of White-fronted Geese for ‘lost’ goose species such as the Lesser White-fronted Goose, the New Grounds continued to host large flocks into the late 1980s and 1990s.”

“We invest time each year to actively manage the wet grasslands and fields for numerous wetland bird species including White-fronted Geese and follow this up each winter by monitoring numbers and recording field usage to help inform future management of these areas. I feel a tinge of sadness that these smart geese no longer visit the UK in large numbers, we do however provide a home for a very diverse range of species thanks to an ongoing programme of habitat creation.”