Following the epic migration of the Brent goose

Brent Geese
Photo: Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Satellite tags are allowing us to gain an insight into the 2,500-mile migration of these geese like never before.

A quarter of the world’s population of Dark-bellied Brent geese spend the winter months around the Essex coast, having travelled 2,500 miles from their Siberian breeding grounds. To gain a full insight into the annual migration and movements of these birds, Essex Wildlife Trust and the Southern Colour Ringing Group have launched a satellite tagging project.

The pilot ringing project launched in 2018, when 18 Dark-bellied Brent geese were ringed under a BTO license at Blue House Farm nature reserve on the river Crouch. This was the first time the species had been ringed in Essex for over 40 years and would allow the geese to be identified and recorded during their long-haul migration to their Siberian breeding grounds.

During spring 2018, two of the birds were spotted – one on Ameland and the other on Terschelling, islands north of the Netherlands. Later there were further sightings in Hallig Hooge Lkr Nordfriesland and Langenwerder, small islands off the north coast of Germany. When the geese started returning in October 2018, several of the ringed individuals were recorded off of Shoebury and Leigh-on-Sea, before returning to Blue House Farm nature reserve in December. 

To gain more comprehensive data on the location of the geese, Essex Wildlife Trust and the Southern Colour Ringing Group attached satellite tags to five geese this year. The devices are solar powered and can upload multiple data points throughout the day to log the birds’ locations.

Harry Smith, Essex Wildlife Trust’s Warden at Blue House Farm said, “it was a fascinating start to the project last year, but now with the addition of satellite tags we will gain invaluable data on the geese’s movements. We’re incredibly grateful to The Essex Recorders Partnership, Essex Birdwatching Society and the Southern Colour Ringing Group for fundraising for these satellite tags and helping the project come into fruition.”

The hopes are that in time, this data will identify sites that are important for the geese and help to inform future landscape-scale conservation efforts.

Harry continued, “We’re especially interested in finding out how the Brent Geese are using the Essex coastline. Eventually we’re going to identify important sites and features, which will feed into management plans of our nature reserves and inform stakeholders in the wider landscape.” 

The Dark-bellied Brent geese arrive in Essex from October and stay until March, when they head off on their epic migration once again. Keep an eye on our website, we will be providing updates on how the geese are getting on and where they are.