Controversial Islay goose management strategy announced


A new 'sustainable' goose management strategy for the island of Islay was announced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) yesterday, Thursday 18 December. The strategy aims to reduce crop damage by an estimated 25% to 35% by decreasing the number of Barnacle Geese, improving habitat for the declining Greenland White-fronted Geese, and helping farmers manage their land more effectively.

Crop damage will be reduced through scaring, diversionary feeding for Greenland White-fronted Geese, and population reduction (i.e. a cull) of Barnacle Geese. The local goose management group will develop a scheme to deliver the strategy objectives, and any population reduction will be made in increments.

Islay is vital for Greenland Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese, which are protected under European law. The Barnacle Goose population has grown from about 20,000 in 1987 to an average of over 41,000 in recent years. Farmers across the island have received funding to partially compensate for economic losses since 1992.

Local and national organisations, including the Islay Goose Management Group, Islay NFUS, local staff from Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections office in Oban and SNH on Islay, have worked together on the new approach. More than 70% of the island will remain as undisturbed feeding areas for geese. This will include large areas of grassland on individual farms, RSPB reserves, rough grazing, dune grasslands, saltmarsh and roost areas.

Barnacle Goose
Barnacle Geese, Islay (Photo: Stef McElwee)

Scottish Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said: "I welcome this long-term strategy developed by SNH, Islay farmers and other stakeholders working to develop new approaches designed to support sustainable goose management on Islay. Aiming to significantly reduce the agricultural damage caused by geese through a variety of management techniques, the strategy will also support the Greenland White-fronted Goose population. The strategy will inform management approaches to support sustainable agriculture on the island, whilst fulfilling our conservation obligations regarding goose populations and preserving the wildlife spectacle that Islay residents and visitors alike value so much."

Eileen Stuart, head of policy and advice at SNH, added: "Barnacle Goose numbers have increased steadily on Islay over the past 20 years or so, and farmers have played a crucial role in this conservation success story. But with more geese there has been increased pressure on both farmers and the public purse. We believe this new, long-term strategy strikes the right balance between conservation, making sure Islay farmers can use their lands profitably, and responsible use of public money. Local stakeholders have been vital in the development of this project."

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Robert Epps, a local farmer and a member of the Islay Sustainable Goose Management Group, commented: "Sustainability is the key to this pioneering plan. By adaptively managing the population of wintering geese, it should help sustain farmers' businesses, the geese themselves and their habitat. It has been a difficult process at times, but our close involvement helped us understand the reasons for protected status and controls. Hopefully involving local farmers has also helped others appreciate the pressure being placed by geese on our farms."

Greenland White-fronted Goose
Greenland White-fronted Geese, Islay (Photo: Kris Gibb)

The full Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy is available at www.snh.gov.uk/land-and-sea/managing-wildlife/managing-geese/islay-goose-project.

Scottish National Heritage
Friday 19th December 2014

RSPB/WWT response to the announcement

Responding to SNH's announcement on the goose management strategy, and speaking on behalf of RSPB Scotland and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: "This Scottish Government and NFUS scheme proposes to reduce the population of a protected wild bird species, which breeds in Greenland and migrates to spend the winter each year on Islay, by 25–30% through shooting.

"We believe that the evidence base on which that cull is proposed is fundamentally inadequate. We fully acknowledge that grazing geese sometimes affect agricultural operations, but past experience on Islay has shown that, with Barnacle Goose numbers at their current stable level on the island, less destructive means of managing those impacts are available, and moreover will be, at least in the shorter term, cheaper for the taxpayer. Scotland has international obligations towards our wildlife, and Barnacle Goose is specially protected under EU conservation law. We urge the Minister to reconsider this risky decision. The spectacle of the geese on Islay is itself an economic benefit to tourism operators on the island, and we fear this 'cull' will deter birdwatchers from visiting."

Written by: RSPB/WWT