Greylag geese

Geese and their consequences for Crofters


The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has raised an on-line petition in the Scottish Parliament urging the Scottish Government to review its policy on the unfolding wild-goose debacle.

“Everyone seems to be aware of the terrible threat of escalating wild goose numbers” said SCF director Roddy MacDonald, “yet there is an apparent lack of Scottish Government action to do anything - in fact they are considering reducing the budget to control this pest. We have raised this petition in the Scottish Parliament to show the strength of feeling over this issue and to get some meaningful action before it is too late.”

The on-line petition calls on the Scottish Parliament “to urge the Scottish Government to address the problems created by increasing populations of wild geese in the crofting areas as a matter of priority; reassess its decision to stop funding existing goose management programmes, and assign additional resources to Crop Protection and Adaptive Management programmes to ensure this threat to the future of crofting is averted.”

Ena MacDonald, an SCF representative in the Uists and a long-term campaigner for the government to address the goose problem said “It is estimated that over 10,000 greylag geese reside here. This is the greatest threat to crofting in the islands and could see the end of this way of life. The government make a thing of saying they support crofting and want to help young crofters to stay here, but then they do nothing about the fact that the geese are forcing crofting out. We just cannot compete against the geese anymore. I appeal to anyone who has a concern for crofting to go to the Scottish Parliament website and sign the petition – show the government that we care and want something done”.

The petition can be found at:

Uist Crofters Warn of Imminent Catastrophe - Press Release April 2013

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Crofting in the Uists is under threat from a goose population rising out of control, public meetings held by the Scottish Crofting Federation in North Uist and Benbecula heard last week.

“Crofters’ complaints about the goose problem are not new,” said Derek Flyn, Chair of the Federation, “but it is now reaching devastating proportions in the Uists. Crops of cereal and grass are being ruined by grazing and fouling by geese. A crofter will wait on tenterhooks for the crop to ripen, balancing this against the risk of the geese coming. If he is unlucky, just when the crop is capable of being harvested they move in and completely destroy his field in hours.”

As a breeding bird the Greylag goose could once be considered rare in British terms; in 1986 it was estimated that there were around 700-800 breeding pairs in the UK, of which around 150 were breeding in the Outer Hebrides . At that time, North Uist crofters were seeking to control the spread of Greylag geese which they claimed were causing them substantial agricultural losses. Now the Uists are year-round home to more than 10,000 greylag geese and that population is growing.

Mr Flyn continued “Crofting agriculture is very important to the Uists, much of which is designated ‘High Nature Value’. The rapid increase in the numbers of geese is accounted for by several factors. People used to shoot geese for the pot, but that gradually stopped when supermarkets came. Reseeding under the IDP gave the geese a supply of feed that inevitably attracted them to stay and breed. Then a crow eradication programme got rid of the goose’s only predator. And despite these vast numbers, geese are still protected by law.”

Rebecca Cotton, Project Manager of ‘Machair Life+’, a European funded environmental programme that runs a Crop Protection Scheme, said “I think it fair to say that geese are the single biggest threat to island crofting. We all talk about the need to retain young people as the most important contribution to the sustainability of the Western Isles, but in crofting terms there will be nothing left for the young people unless we do something about the goose problem now. Unfortunately the Machair Life+ project finishes this year and we haven’t, as yet, secured another phase. SNH have an ‘Adaptive Management’ 4 year trial that controls goose numbers but this alone will not reduce the population to manageable levels. It needs to work alongside a crop protection scheme. Funding for crop protection is to be halted in 2014 as part of recent cuts . If we don’t get more funding for these initiatives we will not be able to keep the flood at bay. We cannot afford to lose a year as we are struggling to keep the population stable now. Despite tireless efforts this year - estates, scarers , gun clubs and syndicates shot over 4000 Greylags - the numbers are still rising. Crofters have said that they can tolerate a population of 3,500 to 4,000 geese. If we lose a year of the joint crop protection and adaptive management work, greylags will definitely threaten the growing of corn and, therefore, the raising of cattle on the Uists.”

Mr Flyn again, “Biodiversity is of course important, but the key to this is to safeguard the livelihoods of the people who live here; without them working the land the protection of biodiversity cannot happen. We can't even sell wild goose meat. With the robust annual counts and the cooperation of all parties on the islands in supplying shot figures, there seems no reason to not change the law so that geese can be controlled year-round, decoys can be used in August and wild goose meat and products can be sold. Wild goose should become part of the Uist diet – it is local food - but it should also be a commercial opportunity.”

He added, “Crofters are told they can shoot marauding deer on their crofts but not geese, except at certain times of the year and at the will of the landlord who has the shooting rights and dictates whether crofters can shoot or not.”

Flyn concluded “The two objectives are to get funding to continue protecting crops and to change the law regarding geese control and meat sales. There is a catastrophe unfolding and officialdom appears to have failed to recognise this and to take action. Crofters and their families are now the endangered ones.”

  1. The Western Isles IDP: Further Lessons in Human Ecology. J. Graeme Robertson. A Habitat Scotland Report, July 1986
  2. There was a review of goose management schemes in 2011 which concluded that against the background of pressure on public expenditure, there would have to be substantive savings in the costs of goose management in Scotland. The report also concluded that control schemes for greylag geese were a lower priority than those for other species.

If you have any concerns about geese in your area, contact HQ or your local SCF Area Representative.

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