Conservation is not always that easy!


Protecting an area for a species works in theory, however, that does not mean they will go there!

The dark-bellied Brent Geese are a winter visitor to the South East Coast, flying in from their breeding grounds in Siberia. They are of high international importance because of their small population size and therefore conservationists make sure they have suitable wintering sites which include the Solent harbours and coast. 

Here in Portsmouth, we are lucky to have Brent Geese each winter and it is always a joy to see them on Southsea Common. However, this year, the Southsea Coastal Scheme began, taking up a portion of the common for building work, which meant Portsmouth City Council had to provide an alternative site for them. Working with Natural England, they picked nearby Castle Field and erected a fence, creating a refuge for Brent Geese over the winter.


This was good thinking, except having a great plan does not always guarantee success. The Brent Geese have decided this man-made refuge is not for them. Instead, they have decided to stick with what they know, just away from any building work. They happily mix in with our seagulls and blackbirds, then move to the nearby cricket club and golf course for an alternative site. Different methods were used to attract them to their refuge, including decoy geese and bird calls, but to no effect. Although the geese have been known to move between different sites along the Southsea coast, they have yet to test their custom-made refuge.


Brent Geese are faithful to their wintering site, normally on coastal mudflats, farmland, and grasslands. Their choice of site depends on several factors such as exposure to predators and disturbance, not just on what food is available. Distance to the coast is important along with grassland management. It is like buying a house, it is all about location, location, location and that perfect coastal address!

Although the site may be the most logical place for them, it does not mean they agree with the reports and what we think! Research and preparation can be good, but sadly, conservation is just not that easy. As many will know, you can create special sites and protect areas but that does not mean you will be successful, no matter how hard you try. Brent Geese are not one for disturbance, but even curious dogs and golfers do not seem to deter them from the sites they picked. Is it stubbornness? Or are they being rebellious, refusing to go where we think is best?

Nevertheless, instead of walking past a fenced-off area full of Brent Geese, we get to see some decoy birds and a rogue curlew figure to keep them company! Which amusing in itself and provides some décor ideas for the garden. The designated area will continue to be fenced off for next five winters in the hope that the geese will use it one day, but as always, you cannot control nature and these birds will go wherever they want, even a golf course!

Written by Emily Horrocks, GWCT Science Writer

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Goose refuge.

at 7:35 on 06/02/2021 by Philip Brown

This article perfectly illustrates a long-standing piece of biological wisdom; sometimes cited as the 'Harvard Principle'. "Under the most rigorously controlled laboratory conditions, the organism will do as it damned well pleases."

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