There was a suggestion of haughtiness about these Svalbard Barnacle Geese, sitting apart from the other wildfowl and well away from the human visitors at WWT Slimbridge. Like many black-white birds their plumage is nevertheless striking.
These birds have been a focus of WWT since the 1950s, when their worldwide population had declined to 300, an alarming level. Peter Scott began an activity that became one of the world’s longest running migratory studies, and WWT has provided winter refuge for these birds, most notably at WWT Caerlaverock in the Solway Firth. In summer they live in the Svalbard Islands (includes Spitzbergen) between Norway and the Arctic. By 2010 there were 35,000 of these birds – a remarkable success story. (Other populations of barnacle geese migrate between Novaya Zemlya/Baltic states and Netherlands, and between Greenland and Scotland/Ireland.)
It shows that the worldwide efforts of conservation organisations can be vital in averting possible extinction of highly visible species. But the pressures are increasing, the number of threatened species inexorably rising, so ever more efforts are needed to maintain nature’s diversity in the face of the relentless onslaught of modern human life.
And what about the smaller organisms where there is no such highly visible focus? Amazingly, it is requiring almost superhuman efforts to even protect the vital bees from ‘the system’. We really do need a step change in our attitude to the natural world. We and it are one interrelated ecosystem – there is no backup.