As this population is so small and its wintering grounds in Greece well known it is in fact unlikely that many (any?) birds seen in Western Europe are actually wild and they are probably birds from the Swedish reintroduced population which is the source of the battle.
The last breeding birds in Sweden were in the 1989 and with no native population to protect they have chosen reintroduction with the Swedish Hunting Association leading the work ?!? The first reintroductions did actually begin before the species disappeared from Sweden but were made in a different area. This reintroduction also had the goal of getting the geese to migrate to Holland in the winter and thus be safer and this was achieved by releasing the goslings with Barnacle Geese foster parents that already used this flyway. This reintroduction however stopped in 1999 when it was discovered that the birds being used were genetically not pure Lesser White-fronts and actually had DNA from Greater White-fronted Geese.
In addition to not being genetically pure, they are migrating in a way the wild population does not, they are using habitats that the wild population does not (town parks for example) and they also hybridize with Barnacle Geese in Sweden so one really does wonder whether these birds should even be called Lesser White-fronted Geese.
The Swedes though seem determined to continue with reintroductions and from 2006 have imported wild birds from Russia (which hardly has a large enough population to lose any of its own birds) which have been used as breeding stock. Goslings have been released in the Swedish mountains but these birds have shown an amazing inability to join up with the other Lesser White-fronts and have turned up all over the place including Norway and England.Recently one of the birds turned up with the wild birds in Northern Norway and promptly got itself shot! See here and here. Not illegally but under the orders of the Norwegian Government and supported by Birdlife Norway who do not want to risk this bird mating with a wild bird and tainting the gene pool and possibly raising youngsters that will want to migrate differently to the rest of the wild population.
The Swedes are up in arms with Birdlife Sweden saying the Norwegians have lost a chance to get new genes into the dwindling population and also a chance that it would help take birds on the safe migration route to Holland thus increasing chances of survival.
The Norwegians are however indignant that this bird should not be allowed to risk the purity of the wild birds but hang on haven’t birds been released at precisely the site where this bird was shot? You would be hard pressed to find any information on this now although at the time it was widely spoken about and I actually saw one of the released birds in May 2011 and mention it on this very blog. In fact it now seems the Norwegians want to pretend this never actually happened. However this document in English from a Norwegian Govt. Minister shows how proud the Govt was and how Birdlife Norway was a willing participant. How times change and so quickly!
Conservationist often face difficult choices with one species having to be controlled to allow another to recover but it must be very rare for there to be two so different opinions as to the best course of action for one species that one side literally shoots down the others attempt.