A review of the coastal distribution and abundance of swans and geese in the SEA 5 area, including migration routes, key feeding areas and roosting areas was carried out by Cork Ecology at the request of the Department of Trade and Industry as part of the SEA 5 process. A review of the potential impacts of offshore wind farms on swans and geese was also conducted.
The study area was defined as the east coast of Scotland from the English border north to John O’ Groats, including Orkney and Shetland, and the offshore waters in the SEA 5 area. The review considered nine species: mute swan, Bewick’s swan, whooper swan, bean goose, pink- footed goose, white-fronted goose, greylag goose, barnacle goose and brent goose.
Counts and figures for the SEA 5 area from the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Annual reports from 1991/92 to 2000/01 and relevant bird reports were included in this review. In general data from 1991 onward were considered with the aim of presenting the most recent estimates for the important sites. Sites that regularly hold more than 1 % of the national population of a species are deemed to be nationally important, and sites with more than 1 % of the biogeographic population are internationally important.
Potential impacts of offshore wind farms on swans and geese
Offshore wind farms may impact birds directly by mortality from collisions or indirectly by displacement from migratory flyways or local flight paths. At present there are very little data on the effects of offshore wind farms on swans and geese. Whooper swan, pink-footed goose, European whit e-fronted goose, barnacle good and brent goose have been highlighted as potentially sensitive species to wind farms and these species are likely to be focal species for environmental assessment.
Key areas and species
Of the nine species reviewed, five species, whooper swan, mute swan, pink-footed goose, greylag goose and barnacle goose occur in internationally important numbers at coastal sites in the SEA5 area. Greenland white-fronted goose occur in nationally important numbers.
The Loch of Harray holds internationally important concentrations of mute swan between October and December. Greylag geese winter throughout Orkney in internationally important numbers, and barnacle geese from Greenland winter on Switha and in the South Walls area.
The Caithness Lochs SPA is internationally important in winter for greylag geese from Iceland and nationally important for whooper swans and Greenland white-fronted geese. The Loch of Wester, Loch Heilen and Loch Calder make up the SPA.
Several sites in the Moray Firth area hold internationally significant numbers of swans and geese in winter. The Inner Moray Firth holds internationally important numbers of mute swans between October and December. The Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet are internationally important for greylag geese while both greylag and pink footed geese occur in internationally important numbers in Findhorn Bay, Loch Eye and the Cromarty Firth. Wintering whooper swans occur in nationally important numbers in the Dornoch Firth, Loch Eye and the Cromarty Firth.
The Loch of Strathbeg is internationally important for whooper swans, pink-footed geese and barnacle geese from the Svalbard breeding population in autumn and winter. The area around the Ythan Estuary and Meikle Loch also holds internationally important numbers of pink-footed geese. Several inland sites hold significant numbers of swans and geese in winter.
The Montrose Basin is nationally important for moulting mute swans, with numbers peaking between July and September. Pink-footed geese also occur here in internationally important numbers, particularly in October and November.
Tay & Eden Estuaries
The Tay Estuary is internationally important in winter for pink-footed and greylag geese, while the Eden Estuary supports internationally important numbers of greylag geese.
Firth of Forth
Pink-footed geese roost in internationally important numbers at Aberlady Bay, with peak numbers occurring in October and November. The Firth of Forth also holds nationally important numbers of whooper swans in winter.
The Tweed Estuary holds internationally important numbers of moulting mute swans between July and September. Whooper swans occur in nationally important numbers at Tyninghame Estuary in winter.
Offshore wind farm developments should not be considered where potential adverse effects on designated sites for nature conservation may occur. Several coastal sites within the SEA 5 Area have been designated as SPAs for swans and geese on passage and in winter, including Caithness Lochs, the Moray Firth, Loch of Strathbeg, Montrose Basin, Tay and Eden Estuaries, and the Firth of Forth.