Pp. 344. Wetlands International Publication No. 48. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands. National Environment Research Institute, Ronde, Denmark. £25 (hardback), ISBN 87-7772-437-2.
The idea for this book was first raised in 1995 and although it has been 4 years in the making it has certainly been well worth the wait. The review collates, for the first time, a vast wealth of information gathered over the last 40–50 years relating to the numbers, trends, distribution, ecology, recent history and conservation status of all goose populations in the Western Palearctic. This enormous task has been expertly tackled by careful editing of text from 19 principal authors, 56 co-authors and 23 contributors. The result is a readable, informative and comprehensive review, imaginatively illustrated throughout by accurate tables, figures and maps.
Geese breeding in an area extending from north-eastern Canada in the west to North Siberia in the east spend the winter in the temperate and Mediterranean zone of the Western Palearctic. Nine species occur regularly, one of which, the Canada goose has been introduced. The book considers 23 populations separately, devoting a chapter to each of the two populations of bean, pink-footed, white-fronted (the four Eurasian populations frequenting different wintering areas and traditionally considered separately are considered as one here), Canada and light-bellied brent goose, three barnacle goose populations, eight populations of greylag goose and the single populations of lesser white-fronted, dark-bellied brent and red-breasted goose.
Each chapter is divided into six sections. The first, a ’population review’, outlines the species range, flyways and general trends in population size, breeding success and mortality. Three detailed sections then consider the breeding, staging and wintering areas on a country-by-country basis. These cover distribution, feeding ecology, past and present research activities (e.g. census programmes and banding/ringing schemes) protection and conservation and, for breeding areas only, breeding biology, moult migration and moulting areas. A brief discussion concludes each chapter summarising the population status, conservation issues, agricultural conflicts and future research needs. The text is extensively referenced, each chapter being supported by an extensive and up-to-date bibliography. In the general introduction that precedes these species accounts, the editors suggest that few can remain ‘unmoved by the sight and sound of several hundred wild geese lifting into the air in a clamour of cries and thrashing of wings’. Although the text is factual throughout, the editors capture some of the awe felt by the many birdwatchers and researchers who have contributed to it, through a series of beautiful photographs that provide the backdrop for the opening page in each chapter. Inevitably, the level of knowledge and information varies considerably between populations but this does not detract from the interest or authority of the book. Extensive long-term research, for species such as the Svalbard barnacle goose and the white-fronted goose, are reviewed in remarkable detail. Sections on less well studied species, such as the red-breasted goose, still provide valuable summaries of available data and serve to highlight important information gaps and research needs.
Careful editing, with standardized figures, maps and tables, means that, unlike so many reviews, this one reads as a book rather than a collection of chapters. This is despite the fact that, as the editors acknowledge, different goose populations necessitated different treatments and different authors adopt different styles. Although aimed at a broad audience, this review is written first and foremost for the international goose research and nature conservation management community as a source of reference. The editors do not set out to offer a new synthesis and they acknowledge that, in such a diverse and active research field, information becomes out-of-date very quickly. But this book will provide a common source document for goose populations and trends for some time. It is also very timely. Many of the species of geese considered are increasingly causing conflict with agriculture in Europe. So far management solutions have been developed at local or regional levels, but it is becoming increasingly evident that satisfactory solutions can only be devised on a flyway basis. This book provides information of direct relevance to international agreements, such as that on the Conservation of African Eurasian Waterbirds, and allows managers to set local situations in a wider perspective. In short, the book is an essential buy for anyone who has, or is, studying or managing goose populations.