Geese control not fit for purpose, say NFU Scotland

NFU Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to rethink its approach to goose conservation in Scotland’s islands and coastal areas where populations have recovered beyond the point that the farmland on which they depend for grazing can support them.

Scotland’s farmers, crofters and land managers – who have been key in helping goose numbers recover - are urging politicians to move beyond schemes which can no longer sufficiently offset business losses and to identify the level of sustainable goose populations which the land can actually support.

Cuts to goose management budgets have been accompanied by an exponential growth in the numbers of some species as well as rocketing farm input costs, especially fertiliser, livestock feed and energy.

Evidence suggests that most of the existing schemes are no longer fit for purpose and that a new strategy should be adopted which would protect goose populations, allow rural businesses to thrive and help Scotland to continue to meet its international conservation obligations, especially the EU Birds Directive.

The Scottish Government must consider new approaches to goose management as a matter of urgency and not leave Scotland’s farmers and crofters to foot the bill for public conservation commitments.

Writing to Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, NFU Scotland’s President, Nigel Miller said:

“Scotland’s islands and coastal areas play a key role in migration cycles, providing over-wintering grounds for several internationally important species of geese. The conservation of threatened species is a success story, with the populations of threatened species such as Barnacle recovering dramatically.

“Over the same period, however, quarry species such as Greylag geese have also flourished and established resident breeding flocks to the point that they are now permanently present in some areas, and the introduced, arguably non-native and invasive Canada goose is now taking a significant toll on its new range.

“Geese in their thousands are devastating grassland in our most fragile farming areas, threatening farm businesses and livestock numbers as the land becomes ungrazeable.

“Previously, local goose management schemes met the costs of impaired production, as well as ensuring that conservation objectives and international obligations, such as the EU Birds Directive were met. Funding to these schemes has been cut, however, and now that the bird populations are high and farm input costs, in particular energy and fertiliser, have rocketed, the schemes do not make up sufficiently for farm business losses incurred.

“The very success of the conservation effort now threatens the farmed habitat that is vital to the flocks of wintering geese. Moreover, the farmers, crofters and other land managers who have taken on the responsibility of managing geese to fulfil Scotland’s international commitments are becoming disillusioned as they witness their livelihoods being threatened and perceive that Scottish Government has left them to shoulder the cost of a public conservation commitment. Evidence now suggests that the pressure has become so extreme that paying for extra agricultural resources is not a long-term option for government, conservation and farming interests.

“With budgets under pressure it is now critical that we change tack. Local management schemes for species which are still vulnerable, such as Greenland Whitefront, should continue until their numbers have recovered, however, an independent expert body should map out sustainable population targets for all species of geese. Identifying and attaining sustainable levels of goose populations should avoid the damage of habitat and be compatible with traditional and viable farm production systems as well as conservation aims. Control measures should be designed in co-operation with the country where breeding takes place, while resident populations and invasive species should be subject to general licence arrangements.

“If the Scottish Government cannot provide public funding to meet the conservation objectives, farmers and crofters in key locations for critical goose populations must not be left to carry the costs of gold-plating the Directive.”