This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
The dark-bellied Brent goose is an annual winter visitor to Britain. Travelling from its breeding grounds in Siberia, almost the entire 215,000 population of these Brent geese winter on the northeast coast of Europe, and just under half (98,100) will spend the winter in Britain.
The majority of dark-bellied Brent geese overwintering here will congregate in a small number of estuarine sites in southern and eastern England, where natural foods such as eelgrass, sea lettuce and saltmarsh plants are found. Much smaller than Canada or graylag geese, Brent geese are a similar size to a mallard, and are darker in colour. They fly in loose flocks rather than tight formations.
As pressure to create more housing in the south east increased, land around popular estuary sites was often bought up for housing or agricultural development, reducing the number of natural feeding sites available. A sudden population increase of dark-bellied brent geese, from 22,000 to around 300,000 between the winters of 1960/6 and the late 1990s, meant that there was no longer enough of their preferred food to go around. Forced to adapt, these geese started to feed at other sites, including coastal grasslands and on cultivated cereal crops.
Inland feeding by large flocks of Brent geese has become a regular occurrence at almost all the key wintering sites in the southeast of England. Inland habitats used by dark-bellied Brent geese include grasslands (particularly fertilised grassland), winter cereals, oilseed rape, and even recreation and sports grounds.
Dark-bellied Brent geese occur in internationally important numbers at several RSPB sites during winter, particularly our coastal sites including RSPB Langstone Harbour and RSPB Pagham Harbour, which have been designated as Special Protected Areas (SPAs) to help protect them
On these grounds, we have recently objected to two of the proposed developments at Pagham, which we are concerned would result in a loss of feeding habitat for the threatened Brent geese protected under the Pagham Harbour SPA. You can find our objections in full on the Arun District Council website (search P/140/16/OUT and P/25/17/OUT)