Ranger Tales: Hugh Thurgate's Brent geese journey

Hugh Thurgate, head ranger at Strangford Lough and an expert at counting Brent geese

Meet Hugh – one of our rangers helping to protect the thousands of migrating Brent geese who fly to Northern Ireland every winter. Here he tells us about his work, what he loves about being a ranger and why Strangford Lough’s nutritious eel grass attracts over 75% of the world’s population of these light-bellied birds every year.

Q: Tell us a little about Brent geese in Northern Ireland

A: Each autumn upwards of 75 % of the entire East Canadian High Arctic population of light-bellied Brent geese arrive in Strangford Lough at the end of a two thousand mile migration. These birds then exploit the vast eel grass beds to refuel and recuperate before the majority of them move on to other parts of Ireland.

Q: How far do the Brent geese travel to get here?

A: The birds leave Canada in late summer, travelling across Greenland, stopping off briefly in Iceland for a quick refuel before arriving in Ireland.  Altogether it’s around a 2000-mile trip.

Every autumn thousands of Brent geese arrive at Strangford Lough
Brent geese at Strangford Lough
Every autumn thousands of Brent geese arrive at Strangford Lough

Q: Like many of the wildlife featured in this series, isn’t it true that the Brent goose was at risk of extinction?

A: Yes it’s true that in the 1930s the UK population of Brent geese almost died out when eel grass was devastated by a wasting disease.

Breeding success in the Arctic is very variable with weather conditions having a very significant influence. A very good year for productivity can be followed by a run of bad years, but overall this species is holding its own but remains vulnerable, particularly to
climate change.

Q: Tell us an interesting fact about the Brent goose

A: Brent geese normally do not fly in the typical V-formation used by other geese, but in irregular masses or lines. Also, the birds’ pair for life and are totally loyal to each other, and also maintain a strong family bond with their young.

Q: Where can I get up close and personal to these birds?

A: You can join us for Brent Watch Day on 21st October at Strangford Lough, when we hope to see Brent geese, various wildfowl and waders, and even seals. We can help you with identification and answer any questions you might have. Visit the website for more details at nationaltrust.org.uk/strangford-lough

Watch wintering brent geese and other birds on the lough
Light bellied Brent Geese on the water at Strangford Lough
Watch wintering brent geese and other birds on the lough

Q: What’s the best thing about being a ranger?

It provides me with the opportunity to spend most of my working life outdoors. This enables me to maintain a relationship with the natural world which is an increasingly difficult thing to do in this day and age. I can genuinely say that my daily life is significantly influenced by the season, the tide and the weather. It's an incredibly varied job but there is a seasonal pattern to our work and one of the great pleasures is comparing season to season from one year to the next.

Q: Is there a ranger job you hate doing?

I can honestly say there is nothing about my job I hate doing;  jobs that could be onerous or tedious aren't because we're always moving on to something fresh. The adage 'no two days are the same' couldn't be more apt.

Q: Favourite thing about Strangford Lough?

My favourite thing about Strangford Lough is its birdlife and the habitats and landscapes it inhabits.

Brent Watch Event

Join Hugh at the rangers at Brent Watch on 21st October 11.30am – 1.30pm to have a gander at the geese for yourself.  Hugh and the team will help with identification and answer any questions you might have.  Meet at Greyabbey car park. No charge. Sorry, no dogs allowed.


Brent geese arrive in their thousands on Strangford Lough

Brent geese arrive at Strangford Lough 

The annual arrival of around 75% of the world’s population of Brent Geese onto the shores of Strangford Lough is a sight to behold.