At first light, the sound of huge flocks of honking Pink-footed Geese fills the north Norfolk sky as they fly in from their roosts on the Wash. Back in the 1960s, wintering Pink-foots in the UK numbered about 50,000. Nowadays there are over 200,000 and about half of them are found in Norfolk.
The Pink-footed Goose spectacle has largely been created by Norfolk’s sugar beet farms. When the roots are harvested, the tops and tails are left in the field, attracting the geese, who thrive on this high-carbohydrate crop. Sugar beet tops have scant commercial value and provide a useful distraction from the winter-sown crops. What’s more, the geese help out the farmers by weeding the fields and reducing transmission of crop disease from one year to the next.
A good place to observe the geese is at the RSPB Snettisham nature reserve, overlooking the Wash estuary, where they arrive towards the end of October and November from their summer breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland.