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Managing Scotland's Geese

Malcolm Ogilvie

Greenland WhitefrontAt the beginning of this year, the National Goose Forum delivered its keenly awaited report. It had been set up by the Scottish Executive to establish a new policy framework for coping with interractions between geese and agriculture. For several years, money had been paid to farmers in a few areas of Scotland, notably Islay, to help them cope with feeding large numbers of protected species of geese (like the Greenland Whitefront, left). However, there was general unhappiness among the farmers, who felt they should be paid more, while there was no mechanism to pay those in other areas where damage was being caused to crops and pastures.

The National Goose Forum Report recommended that local goose management groups, consisting of landowners, farmers and crofters, with officials from the Agriculture Department and Scottish Natural Heritage sitting in, should be set up in those areas where the geese were a serious problem and that these groups should submit plans to a review body which would either approve, reject or advise modifications of each local plan and then make recommendations to government for funding. Accordingly, local groups were formed on Islay, the Solway, Orkney and Strathbeg, where different schemes had operated in the past, and on Kintyre, where the farmers had never received any payments for geese. The schemes from all but Strathbeg have been accepted and payments will start this coming winter.

There is one significant change from how some of the past schemes have operated. The payments will be based on the area of grass, both reseeded and permanent, on each farm rather than on an amount per goose. Average densities of geese on different types of grassland reflect the attractiveness of each type to the geese and payments have been calculated accordingly. Here on Islay, this change has helped the total annual sum involved to go up by about 25% to a total of c.£570,000. This will be shared out between the c.120 farmers and crofters on the island and is a reflection of the costs to the island's farming industry for hosting over 40,000 geese.
Barnacle GooseAnother significant change on Islay is that, whereas under the previous scheme no scaring or shooting was permitted, under the new scheme this will be possible, though under strictly controlled conditions as to where scaring can take place and with an upper limit on how many may be shot. And this applies solely to Barnacle Geese (illustrated left) and not to the Greenland Whitefronts which are both less numerous here and much scarcer in world terms.

It is to be hoped that the four new schemes, which will be very carefully monitored, will go a long way towards satisfying both the farmers whose livelihood can be seriously affected by the geese and the obligation which the government has under European legislation to safeguard protected species.

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Dr Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the 'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.