Author: Martin Payne. This piece was originally published in Essex Life.
The temperatures may have dropped from summer highs but there is still plenty of wildlife to get out and enjoy, including the wildlife spectacle found every year along the Essex coast. The brent goose arrives from its breeding grounds in northern Russia and Siberia to feed on the eelgrass along the coastline and more recently they have moved onto cultivated fields to feed on crops such as wheat, oilseed rape and barley. The Thames Estuary attracts around 10,000 geese (from a UK population of roughly 100,000), making it one of the best places in the country to see the UK`s smallest goose in large numbers
The word “brent” is derived from the Norse word “brand”, meaning burnt. The geese were given this name due to their colour which resembles charcoal. There are three races that visit the UK and Ireland, one race of dark- bellied and two races of pale-bellied. It is the dark-bellied that travels from Russia and Siberia and is found off the Essex coast in winter. The two races of pale-bellied are from Greenland and Spitsbergen but are mainly found in Ireland.
The brent goose doesn’t breed in the UK and has only about 100 days in the arctic to rear a family; bad weather and early winters can have a big impact on numbers. Families migrate together and remain together until the following breeding season. These geese have one of the most energetically costly migrations of any waterfowl species, travelling the 8000km between breeding and wintering grounds with some flights involving 3000km of nonstop flying.
There is also a conservation message that comes with the arrival of the geese. Saltmarsh is one of the most threatened habitats in the country, with 100ha (just smaller than the size of Hyde Park) disappearing every year. Essex has the largest percentage of saltmarsh left and the RSPB are fighting to maintain it so species like the brent goose have somewhere to feed and over winter.
The RSPB will be at The Peterboat in Leigh-on-sea to welcome the arrival of these fantastic geese and take the opportunity to enjoy some of the other wildlife that can be viewed from the comfort of a pub garden. Leigh on sea provides great views of wintering waders including dunlin, little egrets and redshanks but don’t just focus on the birds as there is also a chance to catch a view of common seals.
Come and join us at The Peterboat on the weekend of the 13th-15th October, 11am-4pm and find out more about incredible journey of such an impressive bird!
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