Egyptian Goose added to the European Union list of Invasive Alien Species of concern

Adult Egyptian Goose (Photo: Christine Larose)

Native to Africa, Egyptian Geese were introduced into Europe as decorative additions to wildfowl collections, both private and in urban parks, and also as zoo animals. In the UK, Janet Kear (Man and Wildfowl, Poyser 1990) reported that they were introduced in the 17th century, being part of the menagerie in St James’s Park in London. At the time of her writing the feral population of 4-500 birds was centred around Holkham Estate in Norfolk. She thought that the species’ propensity for nesting early in the year (February-March) led to cold weather limiting breeding success, thereby inhibiting population expansion. Since that time the numbers of Egyptian Geese in Britain have increased (Waterbirds in the UK 2015/16: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO, RSPB and JNCC) and they are increasingly seen outside Norfolk, especially in south-eastern England. These increases might have been enabled by recent milder winters.

Flock of Egyptian Geese grazing in Norfolk in the 1980s (Photo: Chris Feare)

In the Netherlands, Egyptian Geese were recorded breeding in the wild for the first time only in  1967, but the population there has increased much more dramatically than in UK. From the Netherlands they have spread to Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France and it is even possible that some of the birds in SE England are of Netherlands origin. This increase is of concern on several counts. Grazing of grass and ceralcrops is of economic concern to farmers and to public amenity park managers, the latter with the additional problem of the copious droppings left by feeding birds, leading to considerable fouling of recreation areas. There may also be impacts on native birds through competition for nest sites – Egyptian Geese normally nest in holes in trees and are highly aggressive to other species in defence of these, and in defence of their young after their emergence on the foraging areas.

On 2 August 2017 the Egyptian Goose was added to the list of Invasive Alien Species of European Union concern. According to the European Commission brochure “Invasive alien species of Union concern”, the adding of the species to the list will lead to: “A sales ban, the phasing out from zoos, collections and any other ownership, a rapid eradication of any newly emerging populations and the management of established populations should prevent the species from becoming a wider problem across the EU”. This sounds like wishful thinking! How much easier, and cheaper, it would have been if this action had been taken before numbers began to increase.

Adult Egyptian Goose with three young at Frensham Great Pond, Surrey, October 2017 (Photo: Christine Larose)

Some recent events have illustrated the folly of failure to take action against invasive species as soon they are observed in new localities. On 18 October, Christine and I paid a visit to Frensham Great Pond, where we found one adult and three juvenile Egyptian Geese feeding on the beach in front of the visitor centre, suggesting that these birds are now breeding within 20 km of my home in Surrey. At daybreak on 24 October I saw two Egyptian Geese fly over the A30 road while I was driving close to Staines Reservoirs in north Surrey. Shortly after seeing the geese, parties of Ring-necked Parakeets, probably numbering around 300 in total, also flew over the road heading south-east. On 27 October, Christine and I walked around the lake at Petworth House in West Sussex. Here we found a single adult Egyptian Goose, this time among a large flock of Canada Geese.

Ring-necked Parakeets causing extensive damage in a apple orchard in Chertsey, Surrey, in July 1984. These birds were part of a flock of about 12 birds (Photo: Chris Feare)

Both Ring-necked Parakeet and Canada Goose are invasive species whose populations in UK are probably beyond control, financially if not practically. While Canada Geese were introduced to the UK in the 16th century, Ring-necked Parakeets first bred in the wild here as recently as the 1960s. Now, the population is believed to exceed 30,000 and still increasing, risking threats to some agriculture sectors and to native wildlife should the increase continue. In 2010, the ring-necked Parakeet was added to the list of birds that could be killed under a general licence in England and Wales, but this is another example of too little, too late, and now too expensive for preventing environmental problems by an invasive animal.

Canada Geese: introduced to UK in the 17th century and now widespread and common in much of the country (Photo: Chris Feare)
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