Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 12:25 UK

New sanctuary for rare bean goose

Taiga Bean Goose. Pic by RSPB Scotland
The Slammanan Plateau supports Scotland's only population of the geese

A stretch of land near Falkirk has been given protective status after hundreds of rare Taiga Bean Geese were discovered in the area.

The site, at Slamannan Plateau, supports Scotland's only population of the birds and 53% of the UK's total.

They migrate to the area after leaving their breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia and Russia each year.

The decision to protect the site was announced by Scottish Environment Minister Michael Russell.

The plateau lies between Cumbernauld and Falkirk around the headwaters of the River Avon and consists of peatland, wetland and rough and improved grassland.

The mosaic of habitat provides a suitable feeding and roosting area for the geese during their time in Scotland.

Rarest goose

The birds were first identified in the area during the 1980s, and their numbers and distribution have been monitored annually by Scottish Natural Heritage since the early 1990s.

Over that time, the population has grown to more than 200 birds.

The bean geese arrive in the area in late September each year and leave in late February or early March.

The only other wintering population of the geese are found in Norfolk.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "We very much welcome the minister's decision to afford European site protection to the only regular wintering site of Scotland's rarest goose.

"The challenge now is to ensure that land managers are helped to bring the habitat to its optimum condition for the bean geese, so that they continue to thrive."

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