Conservation and management conflicts in the Greenland Barnacle Goose

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Conflicts between people and animals are amongst the most formidable impediments to effective conservation of threatened species. Managing such issues is highly complex, but resolving them is growing in importance, particularly in the developed world, as conflicts between agricultural, recreational and conservation interests increase.
Such is the case with the Greenland Barnacle Goose (GBG), a species of conservation importance (Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive) protected via hunting moratoria and roost site designation. However, in recent years the population has increased considerably, and as a grazer, it is now viewed as an agricultural 'pest' in some areas. On Islay, a stronghold for GBG, there is a long standing conflict between conservation and agricultural interests, and similar conflicts are emerging in other parts of Scotland. Current management on Islay involves deliberate scaring, lethal control and damage-offset payments to farmers. However, the efficacy of these measures is not clear and assessing impact is challenging for a number of reasons: GBG ecology (e.g. migratory behaviour, metapopulation dynamics, etc) makes it difficult to predict management outcomes; the population increase may have levelled off, making projections more uncertain and potentially increasing the conservation imperative; it is sympatric with the globally Endangered Greenland White-fronted Goose, which can be impacted by GBG management activity.
Applying the latest research thinking and analytical approaches combined with a strong partnership involving a skilled research team, government agency and conservationists, would provide a unique opportunity for a CASE student to flourish academically and contribute to the resolution of this conflict.
The student would investigate GBG responses to management at multiple levels:
Management approaches can have a number of indirect effects: disrupting pair bonds, non-lethal injuries, increased lead exposure (from shot) in feeding areas, reduced energy intake and increased energy consumption. None of these have featured in any population modelling thus far but all can influence demography either directly or via carry over effects. The student would investigate this using a broad range of measurements (faecal and blood lead and stress measurements; x-rays for embedded shot; telemetry and time-energy budgets, condition indices, gut parasites, etc) from individually marked birds to estimate the indirect impact of management on fitness.
The manner in which geese respond to scaring and lethal control is unclear. Removed and displaced individuals may simply be replaced by others from poorer habitat; geese may change when they feed (e.g. nocturnally); displaced geese may end up concentrated in smaller areas. The student would use long-term data sets (distribution, habitat and disturbance), telemetry and faecal counts to assess the efficacy of the current management regime.
High levels of disturbance may drive high emigration rates, thereby moving the problem elsewhere. Alternatively, removal of birds may create opportunities (as above). Such responses will be strongly influenced by the patterns of density-dependence and compensation operating in the population. The student will analyse resighting datasets to estimate the key demographic parameters within a metapopulation framework using a combination of Individual-Based Models and Integrated Projection Models.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/P010210/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1920979 Studentship NE/P010210/1 01/10/2017 19/07/2022 Aimee McIntosh
Description GPS tracking of Greenland barnacle geese wintering on Islay 
Organisation NatureScot
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The research team approached SNH for the provision of funding for the acquisition of 16 GPS collars to be fitted on Greenland barnacle geese.We selected ornitela tags for deployment owing to their smaller size and weight of the appropriate GPS tags to purchase for deployment over winter. The research team has extensive experience in the catching and fitting of GPS tags to numerous species of bird, with particular experience in the use of GPS tracking to monitor the movement of geese. Tag deployment is to take place from January 2020 to October 2020 (half the tags are already deployed). Analysis is to be completed by the research group and passed on to SNH as well as sharing access to the Ornitela monitoring panels with the SNH staff. The data is to be sahred with SNH
Collaborator Contribution Scottish Natural Heritage provided the funding for the purchase of 16 GPS collars and the mobile data for the monitoring of GBG on Islay. Data is to be shared with SNH as well as sharing access to the GPS panel so that SNH may continue to monitor the collars.
Impact Tags have been purchased from Ornitela and half have been deployed as of February 2020. The remaining tags are to be deployed in October/November 2020.
Start Year 2019
Description School Visit (St just) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We visited a local secondary school as part of their "Science week" activities. We created a workshop to teach students about our research into migratory geese and the challenges they face.

The workshop included a brief presentation of our research and our career path followed by a game to demonstrate the challenges faced by geese on migration.
This was the first time the game had been tried out in a school.

The workshop was repeated to 3 different classes of varying age from 13 to 16 years and was aimed at classes of mixed ability. Students were encouraged to take part in a discussion after the game.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Secondary School visit to univerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A class of 20 year 11 students visited the university as part of their A-level options experience. We provided the group with a presentation on the research conducted within our research group.

Students then took part in a workshop activity to with our supervision and guidance. The game aimed to demonstrate to students some of the challenges geese face on migration, and how researchers develop questions. Students also had the opportunity to practice some of the techniques we use in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019