Greenland White-fronted Geese and Wind Farms – A Review

The Greenland White-fronted Goose is one of four subspecies of the Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. The species is fully migratory and is a winter visitor to Ireland from Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland. A spring count in 2008 by the Greenland White-fronted Goose study group estimated the total Greenland White-fronted Goose population at 23,200, and the most recent assessment is of 22,844 in spring 2010. Roughly half of this total population (11,003) winters in Ireland. Out of 34 formerly known traditional Irish wintering flocks, 8 are now extinct and a further 17 are considered to be highly threatened. Greenland White-fronted Geese populations are monitored through the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS). Greenland White-fronted Geese are categorised as ’Endangered’ using the IUCN‘s global Red List. Greenland White-fronted Geese are selected as a conservation interest for a number of Special Protection Area’s in Ireland.

Greenland white-fronted geese

Greenland white-fronted geese

The increasing numbers of wind farms in many parts of the Greenland White-fronted Geese west European wintering range, including Ireland, pose a more recent threat to those moving between feeding and roosting areas. This threat is not just from direct collisions with turbine rotors but also from the associated installations i.e. powerlines to transfer produced energy away from a site. A report by BirdLife International highlights that there is a risk of both disturbance by and collisions with wind turbines for Greenland White-fronted Geese.

The Greenland White-fronted Goose is not particularly manoeuvrable in flight, turning in wide arcs, due to their high wing loading. Poor flying conditions especially during low light levels (i.e. while flying between foraging and roosting grounds at pre-dawn and post-dusk periods), including strong winds or heavy rain that could additionally affect a bird’s manoeuvrability during flight could greatly increase the collision risk. Studies have indicated that negative effects on Greenland White-fronted Geese from wind turbines could occur up to 600m away. These effects include a reduction in the use of or absence from the area close to the turbines. Disturbance may be caused by the turbines themselves through visual, noise, and vibration impacts, or as a result of vehicle / vessel and personnel movements related to site maintenance. Detailed scientific studies are currently lacking to determine the level of risk of collisions and disturbance from turbines and their associated installations on Greenland White-fronted Geese.

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