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Conservation of the Wintering Population of the Globally Threatened Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) in Bulgaria LIFE09 NAT/BG/000230 - ongoing

Red-breasted Geese face a number of threats along their migration flyway, and in the project sites specifically. The threats faced by this species are among the most pertinent to waterbird conservation, including agricultural changes, hunting and development pressures. High levels of disturbance at roosts and feeding sites are caused by boating, fishing, hunting and deliberate scaring on agriculture land. Anthropogenic disturbance threatens goose populations because it results in increased energy expenditure through escape flights, and reduced energy intake through reduced time spent feeding. At an individual level, this means that the geese have lower body condition than they otherwise would have, increasing the risk of mortality due to starvation and general poor health. At a population level, the effect is equivalent to a reduction in the carrying capacity of the site: fewer geese can be supported as a result of avoidance of potential feeding areas. In some cases, especially where roosts are severely disturbed, geese will abandon an area altogether.

Agricultural change reducing food availability

In the project sites, Red-breasted Geese feed primarily on agricultural crops. Thus the conservation status of the population is closely linked to agricultural practice, in particular the continued availability of food plants. A change in crop types in the area might be detrimental to the population if the new crops do not provide food for geese. Such changes are driven primarily by climate change and consequent changes in agricultural policy, as well as other socioeconomic drivers including urbanisation and land reform following EU accession. Of particular concern in the project area would be shifts from preferred food items, primarily winter cereals (wheat and barley), maize stubble and rape to woody cash crops such as grapes, rape, and vegetables.

Such changes have already occurred to a substantial degree in parts of the project area and reduced the area of available feeding around the winter roosts. Addressing this threat is of crucial importance to the survival of this species, so the project will promote appropriate management of agricultural land and raise awareness of financing opportunities to enable Red-breasted Goose friendly agriculture.

Reduction in the availability and quality of feeding and roosting habitat due to infrastructure development: wind farms, tourism, and urban expansion.

The project sites encompass part of the Black Sea coastal zone of Bulgaria, and this is an area of rapid infrastructure development. Specifically, there is current and projected rapid expansion of windfarms, tourist facilities and urban areas. These developments have the potential to significantly reduce available feeding and roosting habitat for Red-breasted Geese. Land-based windfarms can reduce habitat availability because geese tend to avoid foraging in the area around the installations, at least in the years immediately following installation.

Tourist infrastructure and other built development generally create highly disturbed habitat that is not used by migratory wild geese. However, the impact of such development can be minimised where stringent, evidence-based planning regulation is enforced. Mechanisms to evaluate and guide investment proposals will be developed, trialled and promoted within the Project.

Unsustainable levels of hunting mortality

Direct mortality from hunting is a key threat to our target species. Red-breasted Geese are protected species in Bulgaria and most of the key sites are also at least partially protected. However, hunting pressure remains high, because a significant proportion of the hunters are either unaware of regulations, choose to ignore them or fail to correctly identify Red-breasted Geese. And although many of the major roosts are protected, hunting continues at the feeding areas, which are not protected. This situation is further exacerbated by lack of dialogue with hunters to raise awareness of regulations and goose identification, and a lack of capacity to enforce regulations. As well as establishing patrols to control illegal hunting, the Project will develop identification literature and work with the Hunting Association to improve awareness and understanding of conservation issues by hunters.

Mortality through collision with human infrastructure (wind farms, power cables, masts and other buildings)

The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Romania has substantial potential for wind farm development, and is also subject to rapid expansion of other built structures connected to tourist development and urbanisation. At present, risks to Red-breasted Geese and optimal location of structures is not being considered in a strategic manner. Consequently the potential for inappropriate development, or the cumulative effect of many developments, to negatively affect the Red-breasted Goose population is considerable.

There are no quantitative data or predictive models to estimate the impact of collision mortality on the Red-breasted Goose population. However, the relatively small population that is highly aggregated into a small area with a presumed narrow migration corridor gives cause for concern. Thus there is a clear need for the development of tall structures to be subject to careful planning that considers risk to species of conservation concern. This in turn requires reliable data on movements, avoidance and population sensitivity of the species concerned.

Lack of awareness

Although this is not a threat in itself, many of the threats above are compounded by lack of awareness, understanding and/or appreciation of the threats and conservation status of the Red-breasted Goose and its habitat. The project will work with stakeholders at local, regional and national level to address these gaps. As well as working with target groups such as farmers and hunters addressed above, the project will aim for a ‘participatory management approach’ and develop a sense of ownership in work with school children and community groups.

"Safe Ground for the Redbreasts" is a EU Life+ funded project in Bulgaria
Training of fieldworkers for the "Safe Ground for the Redbreast" Project
Kite festival is public event for the local people and the Red-breasted Goose
Street art work in support of conservation during Kite festival event