As we enjoy the late summer days, far to the north 3000 miles away, Dark-bellied brent geese are preparing for an epic journey to our shores, some of them for the very first time.

These endearing monochromatic birds spend their breeding season on the boggy arctic tundra of eastern Siberia. It’s in this unforgiving environment that they nest and raise their young for the first weeks of their vulnerable lives. The climate is so severe that there is only a 2 month window of fair weather before the cold returns, triggering their need to leave and the start of an incredible migration.

Brent geese are social animals, feeding flocks can be several hundred strong and family groups stay together from one breeding season to the next. As they migrate each winter, the adult pair may have this and last year’s juveniles with them. Watching them as they arrive in the autumn on the Exe Estuary and at Exmouth Duck Pond is enthralling and it’s easy to spot the family squabbles (and to relate to them!).

Councillor Martin Wrigley, Chair of the South East Devon Habitat Regulation Executive Committee and Teignbridge Executive Member for Communities, Housing and IT, said:

Watching the return of the overwintering birds to the Exe Estuary, seeing them feed and gather on clear blue-sky autumn days, reflected in the glassy water surface, brings a feeling of calm serenity. It’s definitely something worth protecting.

The Exmouth Wildlife Refuge at Exmouth Duck Pond is active between September 15th and December 31st to protect the feeding grounds of birds such as Brent geese. The Dawlish Warren wildlife refuge is active all year round.

The birds’ family groups are beginning to arrive, so if you visit in late October on a receding tide, you should see hundreds of them feeding (and squabbling).

Please watch from a distance and remain outside the wildlife refuge to respect their space and ensure they can feed free of disturbance. Dogs are seen as predators by birds, so please keep them away from the foreshore to avoid disturbing them. After such a long journey, it’s a simple way to show how welcome they are here.

Brent geese are just one of the species which spend the winter on the Exe Estuary. In fact, the Exe plays host to as many as 20,000 birds over winter, which means it is an internationally important area for wildlife. You can do your bit to keep it special for years to come by keeping out of the refuges and following the codes of conduct for the area: Exe Water Users Code | South East Devon Habitat Regulations Executive Committee.