Report on crop protection scheme for Uist 2012

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The current crop protection scheme run by the Conserving Scottish Machair Life+ Project for corn in the Uists is about to conclude as the corn has been gathered in.

While stooks have remained under crofter/scarer shared protection, at the next stage of mini-stack making, responsibility for keeping the geese away reverts fully to crofters once toiteans are made.

This year the scheme has protected almost all the Islands’ corn crop with satisfactory accounts of seed crop being harvested despite the greylag geese being extremely persistent and higher in numbers than ever before.

The recent post breeding greylag count organised and run by Machair Life+ for the Uists and Barra has been calculated as 8650 geese.

At least 800 geese have also been shot since August; therefore a population estimate of 9550 is given for early September 2012.

Thanks must go to all RSPB staff, volunteers, scarers, keepers and crofters for their help in carrying out the annual count.

Following the annual count, an additional trial sample count has also been done by RSPB staff to help to assess the accuracy of the main count and this data will be analysed in due course.

Machair Life+ has used all the resources available to them from the funding allocation to buy kit and pay scarer salaries across the Islands to protect corn.

The hours allocated to scarers employed directly by the Project, are worked out in accordance with the budget and EU regulations.

Funding is allocated directly to Storas Uibhist as a contribution towards their own crop protection scheme. Storas Uibhist has tripled the number of special licences held for shooting geese in August.

Rangehead, North Uist Estate and Newton Syndicate also receive a contribution while all other areas are covered by Machair Life+ employed scarers. The scheme is coordinated across the Islands by Rory MacGillivray who plays a key role in bringing all parties together. Additional help has come from the children of local primary schools who made all this years’ scarecrows.

Scarers and coordinator have worked even harder to protect crops, often far beyond their paid duties.

Given that their limited scaring hours are mostly required at dawn and dusk, it creates pressure on the day period of the protection. It has been suggested that next season, clearer boundaries of when the scarer should be on the machair will be set, so that crofters can be aware of when their attendance for protecting their own crop is most likely required.

Machair Life+ goose scaring kit such as fencing, kites and poles unfortunately cannot be handed out in the same quantities next season due to budget restrictions. Crofters who have been supplied with kit are advised to bring it in as soon as their crop is harvested and to store it safely over the winter to ensure its reuse next year.

At the next Uist Goose Management Meeting, workings for the new Adaptive Management trial, being coordinated by SNH, will be discussed in more detail. This trial scheme has funding to reduce the population of geese.

The Machair Life+ crop protection scheme will remain in place until autumn 2013. This scheme has been managed by the Machair LIFE+ team but is funded by SNH & Scottish Government. As a result of the Scottish Government’s review of goose schemes in 2011, the future of crop protection schemes for greylag geese is looking very uncertain from 2014 onwards.