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27th September 2022

Wild Geese and the GSA Biosphere

Southwest Scotland is a winter wonderland for geese, as thousands of birds arrive from across the Arctic to escape the cold weather in our warmer climate. The Solway Firth is a big attraction, with its vast expanses of remote saltmarsh, sand and mud – a perfect roosting area overnight, safe from predators.

At dawn the birds fly inland in vast numbers to their feeding grounds on coastal grasslands and inland fields.  Svalbard barnacle geese (pictured right) can be seen feeding during the daytime around the Solway Firth, around Caerlaverock and along the coastline past RSPB Mersehead and to Auchencairn. This population of barnacle geese is very important as the entire Svalbard population winter on the Solway Firth.

Pink-footed geese from Iceland fly further inland, to fields inland and across Dumfries & Galloway; they can be seen feeding at places such as NTS Threave. They are the earliest geese to arrive, with non-breeding birds arriving in late August/September. They make a distinctive high pitched ‘squealing’ call as they fly over in v-shaped skeins.

Loch Ken is home to thousands of pink-footed geese, greylag geese and the rare Greenland white-fronted goose. Greenland white-fronted geese make an amazing journey from Greenland, through to Iceland then across to Dumfries & Galloway, but they are increasingly under threat and in serious decline. This goose is currently being studied to determine more about its migration and the threats it is facing. To find out more about these beautiful birds and to check where they are right now, follow the Galloway Glens goose tracking blog!

The light-bellied brent goose (pictured left) makes an incredible migration each year, from Arctic Canada, across Greenland and Iceland to reach the western tip of Dumfries & Galloway – a journey of over 5,000km. Many birds in this population winter in Ireland but there is a small but important population which feed on eel grass in shallow lochs and bays in Dumfries & Galloway. These can be best seen in Garlieston Harbour, Loch Ryan at the Wig, and Stranraer Harbour.

The Wild Goose Festival is taking place between 20th-30th October and the GSA Biosphere is proud to be a partner organisation and co-hosting events. This family-friendly festival celebrates the return of the wild geese to Dumfries & Galloway through art, literature, science and storytelling. There are many events involving a wide variety of organisations including the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), RSPB, The Stove Network, PAMIS, Glasgow University, and many more. For the first time this year, an event is being held in the west of the county, with our Birding for Brents event on 23/10 in Stranraer introducing people to the wonderful brent goose. We are especially excited to be working with our sister UNESCO Biosphere at Dublin Bay (a wonderful image from their brent geese research project is to the right), and for anyone who cannot attend the festival in person, The Brent Geese of Dumfries & Galloway taking place in the evening of 24/10 is an online event.

For more information and to book, please visit the festival website. For any questions or queries about wild geese in the GSA Biosphere or the events that we are hosting in October, please get in touch with our Community Officer, Faith Hillier, via

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