On Thursday I helped in a monitoring survey associated with diversionary feeding, the first of several over the winter. Now you could be excused for thinking this might be an exercise connected to the Scottish Health Authority and an enquiry linked to such much vaunted delicacies as Scotch Pies, Fish Suppers and Deep fried Mars Bars, but you'd be way off the mark. This was, in fact, a day monitoring various sites where alternative food sources are being provided for Greenland White-fronted Geese and "distraction treatments" are being trialled on grassland to attempt to persuade feeding geese to move elsewhere.
In the next few days I'll be Blogging on the more general subject area of geese on Islay. In essence we have a problem! Each winter around 40,000 Barnacle Geese travel from Greenland and take up winter quarters on Islay, besides occurring in lesser numbers elsewhere in Scotland and in Ireland. Their numbers have increased over the years and their predilection for feeding on grass pastures managed for cattle and sheep bring them into conflict with farmers.By contrast the numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese, now around 5000, have decreased such that their status is of increasing concern. Some interesting research is being completed by WWT ( I'll put out a Blog on that too! ) coupled with other efforts instituted by Scottish Natural Heritage. If you wish to be prepared for what is a complex subject area then here is a bit of homework for the weekend!! The Management Strategy illustrated below can be found in entirety at the following link Islay Goose Managemnent Strategy
Now I would ask to be treated gently in all this and the succeeding Blogs as the subject is a little complicated, not a little controversial and trying to present an informative summary in an appealing way to a largely lay audience is not the easiest task. However, we shall try!!
Today saw us looking at a series of diversionary feeding sites that have voluntarily been set aside by farmers and sown with a variety of crops that, hopefully, over the winter will prove attractive to geese, particularly Greenland White-fronted Geese.. Crops included fodder beet ( which will also ultimately provide food for sheep ), oats and turnips ( which are actually swede but called turnips in Scotland ). I'm told that one variety of turnip is possibly viewed as being too bitter by the geese, so enter the complication of palatability, not a difficulty one might have automatically arrived at! It was also useful to see the different uptake of different sowings and the clear natural hurdles that are present and affect farming practice. Given the majority of geese haven't yet arrived the usage of these areas was patchy, but provided a useful set of control observations against which subsequent observations can be judged. One field being managed was absolutely alive with birds other than geese...... larks, finches and buntings (20+ Yellowhammers ), some thrushes, corvids and a hunting male Hen Harrier up for a meal. Is this each farm, single small field, winter feeding approach possibly a less complicated way worthy of subsidising generally compared to other options available aimed at supporting farmland birds? Two other sites carried numbers of Twite in addition to other passerines. Clearly, already, the approach is generating results, questions and possibly solutions for the future. Certainly a couple of sites had already been discovered by geese and were obviously being successful in their role!
Another aspect we looked at were the results arising from the use of additives ( in fertiliser treatments) that are potentially off putting to the geese, back to palatability again! These have only just been completed so the results will emerge later on in the winter.
The whole question of goose management on Islay is laced with passionate convictions from differing factions of opinion and I'll be outlining some of the factors involved shortly. Whatever one's position, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, in many places, we just have to routinely develop management solutions to upcoming problems, be they derived from conflicts with farming, access, visitor numbers, built development, the sustainable development of energy sources and so on. In that context seeking out a solution on Islay to what is an apparent conflict between farming and geese is simply one that is also mirrored elsewhere or is in the process of development. In reality, and we must view it in that context, the solutions adopted finally on Islay are extremely important as they might usefully provide a way forward where problems of a similar nature are being experienced in other places be it in Orkney ( with Grey lag Geese ) or the Uists. In that sense, solutions must take account of the accumulative effects of any measures adopted, as currently the holistic effects on the overall populations of various species don't appear to be figuring very prominently. Strategies are limited to areas of , shall we say, more parochial interest. Perhaps the Scottish Government ought to be considering an over-arching goose management strategy for Scotland that takes account of its international responsibilities and the effects any proposed solutions might have on the collective population levels of different species. I'm sure such work will have been completed and exist somewhere against which any recommendations for action on Islay can then be viewed.