Goose management policy in Scotland: 2010 review

Review of goose management policy in Scotland conducted in 2010.

Executive summary

S1 Review objectives

The main objective of the review was to examine future strategies for goose management in Scotland in terms of their probable efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Four areas of policy concern to the Scottish Government were examined:

  • The overall effectiveness of the national policy approach;
  • The cost-effectiveness of local goose management schemes;
  • Current and future sources of funding; and
  • Legal and policy definition of sustainable management of goose populations.

S2 Methods

The review was based upon an analysis of previous reports and publications relating to goose populations, management and policy in Scotland. Interviews were conducted with all current Local Goose Management Groups ( LGMGs), and with some other local and national stakeholders. The payment databases of each LGMG group were analysed as part of the investigation into cost-effectiveness. A number of stakeholders, including all organisations represented on the National Goose Monitoring Review Group ( NGMRG), also provided written evidence to a structured questionnaire. Information was obtained on three areas with goose issues outside current LGMS areas to exemplify emerging issues across Scotland but a comprehensive assessment of goose-agriculture interactions was not within our remit. Information was obtained by correspondence on goose policy and intervention mechanisms in a number of other European countries.

S3 Overall effectiveness of the national policy approach

S3.1 National policy framework: structure and delivery

The National Policy Framework ( NPF) for goose management, established in 2000, put in place goose policy objectives and a delivery structure with a central role for the NGMRG. This group consists of national stakeholders, operating largely through consensus with a very limited range of instruments at its disposal. Its main mechanism is the ability to recommend the establishment of LGMGs. Seven such groups have been formed, covering the major locations where damage from geese has been a significant issue to date: Islay, Kintyre, Solway, Loch of Strathbeg, and South Walls (winter and spring schemes including payments to farmers); and Tiree and Coll, and Uist (summer schemes with scaring and population management as the sole policy mechanisms). The LGMGs act as local delivery agents, making bids to the NGMRG to fund payments to farmers and to finance other activities (including goose monitoring and scaring). Total delivery costs were around £1.6m per year in 2009-10, of which £1.3m was in payments to farmers.

The three current NPF policy objectives (and guiding principles) are:

  • To meet the UK's nature conservation obligations, within the context of wider biodiversity objectives;
  • To minimise economic losses experienced by farmers and crofters as a result of the presence of geese; and
  • To maximise the value for money of public expenditure.

Apart from meeting international obligations, which is reasonably specific, the policy space is largely undefined. The increasing costs of current delivery mechanisms together with major pressures on public expenditure were pertinent factors in this review.

SNH also intervene in goose conservation, mainly through individual management agreements and site designation. Its intervention was found to complement that of the NGMRG.

S3.2 National policy framework: effectiveness

Policy delivery has been largely successful in meeting the UK's conservation objectives for naturally occurring populations of geese in Scotland, with the exception of the Greenland White-fronted Goose. Given the continuing decline of this population since 2000, more could have been done to prioritise Greenland Whitefront within policy. Growth in total goose numbers in scheme areas of Scotland and on Orkney has been around 76% over the last decade (around 5.8% per year). For scheme areas alone growth has averaged 2.2% per year. The overall impact on agriculture is one of increasing potential damage with hence an associated social cost.

Intervention has greatly reduced the economic losses from goose damage and reduced conflict between local interests that were problematic prior to 2000. In two scheme areas in the Western Isles (where no payments are made), there remains dissatisfaction amongst some of the crofting community because economic losses from geese are continuing. This reflects in part the limitation on intervention tools imposed by the distribution of shooting rights in crofting communities.

Although the basic rationale for policy intervention remains strong, there was little evidence that the delivery of the NPF now provides good value for money ( VFM). The structure for delivery means that there is little incentive at either national or local level to improve VFM, especially if that places tension on consensus operation.

S3.3 Weaknesses in the current structure and delivery

Whilst NGMRG in its consensus-based implementation of the NPF has been highly successful in delivering a policy acceptable to most stakeholders, a number of weaknesses are evident:

  • Regulation - LGMGs operate in a semi-autonomous way and are mainly concerned with maximising budgets and reducing local conflict, rather than delivering cost-effective national policy. With some exceptions, obligations on farmers were minimal and compliance monitoring and enforcement not well developed. There was no incentive to seek VFM. We suggest that much stronger conditions attached to the use of public funding in delivery are needed.
  • Information - annual assessments of local schemes were limited by reports that varied in content, quality and transparency, and were generally unsatisfactory for managing the delivery process. We suggest that a much more uniform reporting system is needed with transparent databases for audit purposes. Detailed advice and direction is needed to ensure consistency in reporting
  • Governance and audit - governance at local level was weak and staff responsibilities not well defined. There was no formal scrutiny of payments and no one body accepted responsibility for audit. We suggest that better defined and more publicly acceptable and accountable practices are required.
  • Communication between NGMRG and local groups - Slow and sporadic communication has caused concerns with some local groups. In part this reflects group decision making at NGMRG. The current consensus-based NGMRG is not characterised by rapid action but local chairman should be asked to present annual reports and an improved and faster method of downward response is needed.
  • Increasing goose populations and budgetary pressure - There is likely to be a need to both limit the social cost and pressure on budgets from increasing goose populations and to cut absolute public expenditure. The ability of the current structure to deliver satisfactorily on these issues is highly questionable.

S3.4 Areas not currently subject to management regimes

Goose damage has been reported in some areas of Scotland not covered by current schemes: we investigated goose issues on Orkney, in Caithness and in Lochaber as examples of geographical areas outside current policy. Strictly the NGMRG cannot respond to such issues unless a local group is formed, and current policy has a predisposition against intervention for goose populations that are not regarded as requiring special protection (including Greylag Goose, the species currently responsible for the majority of issues outside of existing LGMSs). A more coherent generic policy strategy is required, particularly for Greylag and Pink-footed Geese in the context of increasing populations and damage. In many cases effective intervention is limited by a lack of detailed and reliable monitoring data. We suggest that the responsibilities of NGMRG in obtaining these data need to be clarified and further funding may be necessary.

S4 Cost-effectiveness of Local Goose Management Schemes

S4.1 Current cost-effectiveness

Five LGMSs made payments to farmers, whilst the two summer schemes in the Western Isles delivered policy through publicly finance shooting, egg oiling and scaring only. Payment schemes varied widely in their method of calculating payments. Although all differentiated between feeding and buffer areas and paid notionally on a per hectare basis, some converted this on a sliding goose density scale, such that payments were effectively per goose. Some used a zonal approach, which concentrated funding in specific feeding and associated buffer zones. Others used a distributed system, in which fields were selected on a least cost basis. In payment schemes, the total cost per goose counted on fields directly supported by payments varied from £15.70 to £52.20 per goose. Payments to farmers varied from £13.80 to £36.60 per goose.

Comparisons between areas must be made with caution because of differences in goose species and context. Even so, we consider that payment systems need a clearer rationale in their modus operandi. We are not convinced that the concentrated (zoned) schemes provide a lower cost route to goose management than distributed ones.

S4.2 Increasing cost-effectiveness within the current structure

The report notes specific cases where payments rates have been calculated inappropriately or where a lack of transparency raises questions about cost efficiency. Several possible routes were examined to increase cost-effectiveness and reduce budgetary costs. Of these, (i) removing fertilizer payments, and (ii) reducing the frequency of monitoring counts and publicly funded shooting and scaring in payments areas were those least likely to threaten policy delivery. Implementation of these suggested savings could reduce current total expenditure by 30%, with savings of up to 40% possible if additional measures were taken.

S5 Current and future sources of funding

Voluntary sector funding contributes to goose management, especially through provision of reserves. Mixed funding in the form of an RSPB-led EULIFE programme will contribute in a number of locations in the Western Isles for four years from 2010. However, these sources will not match the aggregate private costs associated with managing populations of wild geese. Hence continued goose management will require continued public funding.

To date public finance has been derived from domestic (Scottish Government, SG) sources. There is an apparent gain to the SG budget from delivering via EU programmes (e.g. SRDP) in that the domestic contribution is reduced. The SRDP also provides a mechanism for comparing the merits of different directions for development and environmental expenditure.

However, in practice the overall level of SRDP funding is broadly fixed such that inclusion of geese could lead to (depending on prioritisation) increased competition and reduced security of funding, both for goose management and for other SRDP components. We suggest that conditions imposed by the European Commission in relation to governance, accountability and the role of public employees would have profound implications for the operation of goose schemes because much of the current modus operandi would be unacceptable. Funding via an SRDP route would also be almost universally unpopular with the goose stakeholder community.

S6 Legal and policy definition of sustainable management of goose populations

S6.1 Meeting of conservation obligations

Five of the seven main naturally occurring goose populations in Scotland are larger now than in 2000 (and range has at least been maintained): Svalbard Barnacle Goose; Greenland Barnacle Goose; Native Greylag Goose and re-established Greylag Goose (which we treat as a single population); Icelandic Pink-footed Goose; and Taiga Bean Goose. This broadly suggests that goose policy has been successful in meeting conservation obligations to maintain the range and abundance of naturally occurring populations, although we cannot be certain to what extent the positive population changes have been driven by policy. The Scottish population of Greenland White-fronted Goose has continued to decline (by more than 30% since 2000) and despite evidence that declines may be driven at least in part by factors operating outside of Scotland, policy could have made this population a higher priority (particularly within the Islay LGMS). There has been a large shift in the distribution of Icelandic Greylag Geese, with the majority of the Scottish population now wintering on Orkney but policy failed to proactively address this change (e.g. by ensuring the collection of high quality monitoring information). There has been a large proportional increase in the Scottish population of the non-native Canada Goose and we suggest there are real risks that this species could: compete with native goose species for habitat; hybridize with native Greylag Geese; and cause other potentially serious environmental and economic impacts if the population rises further. For each of these failures to meet conservation obligations, we make suggestions in the report for future action.

As total numbers of geese in Scotland are still increasing markedly, the balance between the three fundamental principles of the NPF may need to shift for some populations within future goose policy, and a greater emphasis placed on minimising economic losses and delivering value for money. Predictive population models have already been developed for some of the key goose populations, which we regard as a useful step towards sustainable adaptive management approaches. We suggest that the Scottish Government consider the US/Canadian approaches to managing wildfowl populations, and the lessons that can be learned from their experiences, during future policy development.

The modelling that has been carried out to date in Scotland needs some updating and refinement to make it fit for purpose for adaptive management purposes and we suggest steps that should be taken, with a focus on understanding better the uncertainty surrounding population predictions and the effect of different input parameters (e.g. survival rates, productivity estimates, numbers of birds shot) on this uncertainty.

Much goose population size, productivity and survival (from ringing) information is collected by volunteers and thus generally represents good value for money and we suggest it would be risky to stop supporting the collection of such information at current levels until the suggested review of the modelling process can be undertaken (after which data collection could be prioritised more effectively). We suggest that some improved data collection is required to reduce the risk of defaulting on conservation obligations, including: improved counts of wintering Icelandic Greylag Geese and resident Greylags in the same areas (allowing their separation); and work to assess more fully the effects on Greenland Barnacle Geese and Greenland Whitefronts of the derogation to shoot under licence on Islay. In the event that cost savings must be made in the short-term, we provide in the report a suggested method of prioritising goose populations for information collection purposes.

The level of hunting is one of the most important factors influencing population changes for Scottish quarry goose populations, and may be the most important factor for some (e.g. Icelandic Greylag Goose). Information on numbers shot annually is critical for population modelling purposes and meeting conservation obligations to ensure that populations are managed sustainably. We suggest that the lack of a comprehensive hunting bag reporting system in the UK should be addressed as a priority to underpin future management of Scottish goose populations. The majority of national stakeholders with goose interests also expressed concerns about the lack of a hunting bad reporting scheme. In the report we consider the pros and cons of voluntary versus mandatory approaches to hunting bag recording, and note that schemes are available in other European countries from which expertise could be tapped.

S7 Policy delivery options for the future

S7.1 Species (population)-specific policy: rationale

Since different goose species (populations) are associated with different legislative obligations and restrictions, different public concerns, and different population dynamics, we suggest that policy should reflect these differences and that, to be effective, delivery should be species (population)-based, both at national and local levels.Most management actions under current goose policy (the Local Goose Management Schemes) are focused on a relatively small number of discrete geographical areas within Scotland, which have become defined as a result of their previous history of conflicts between geese and agriculture. In the changing context in which goose policy in Scotland now sits - increasing goose numbers, emerging issues outside of existing goose scheme areas and budgetary constraints - we suggest that future policy should take a more holistic, geographically inclusive and perhaps fairer stance. A species (population)-focused stance is commensurate with this suggestion.

Policy should also take into account:

  • Stakeholder interests (including impacts on farmers/crofters, and the preferences of the public and other interest groups).
  • The social and budgetary costs of intervention (and non-intervention). The current pressure on public expenditure emphasises the need to contain budgetary costs.

Based on economic research on the value of benefits to the public from geese, including public preference work, NGMRG (2005) concluded that payments to farmers for damage caused by wild geese represented good value for money to the taxpayer. We have re-interpreted the previous and rather limited economic preference research in the light of the increase in total goose numbers over the last decade. Our interpretation suggests that policy to enhance the Greenland White-fronted Goose population still provides VFM but that the available research now provides no support for a policy that supports further increases in the populations of Barnacle, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese. In so far as population changes reflect policy intervention, we question whether policy at the margin is now delivering VFM for Barnacle Geese (populations that are now more secure in conservation terms than they were a decade ago).

The Scottish goose population has increased substantially in the last decade and if it continues to do so, this is almost certain to have some social cost where geese graze agricultural land. Public expenditure will increase if increased damage translates into increased payments. This is currently a particular issue for Greylag Geese. Marginal damage costs may be expected to be broadly the same as average costs ( ca.£20 to £52 per goose in local schemes). Policy has not addressed this issue adequately to date, and the risk is that, unless other constraints limit population size, there will be increasing budgetary costs associated with geese.

S7.2 Options for species (population) management

In the report we provide future management options (exploring rationale, relative costs, potential benefits, and risks and barriers to implementation) for all the main Scottish goose populations under four groups:

  • Populations currently considered vulnerable in Scotland (Greenland White-fronted Goose and Taiga Bean Goose);
  • Other non-quarry populations (Svarlbard and Greenland Barnacle Geese);
  • Quarry populations (Icelandic and resident Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Goose); and
  • Non-native species (principally Canada Goose).

Greenland White-fronted Goose should receive high priority within future goose policy and we suggest work to gain a greater understanding of the part of the population on Islay and that current work to conserve the smaller flocks continues to be supported, and these small flocks protected. Measures to protect the small Scottish Bean Goose flock should also continue.

For the two populations of Barnacle Geese, there are two main risks of maintaining the policy status quo: the likely growing public costs of managing the increasing populations (particularly on the Solway); and the concerns over the derogation for shooting currently in place on Islay. The marginal damage cost as implied by current payments is ca £25-30 per additional goose per year and there is now a stronger case for a policy of damage containment. Widening the geographical scope of the derogation to shoot would not be a popular option with conservation organisations but (even if publicly funded) would be a lower cost long-term option than meeting an increasing damage cost if each shot bird reduced the population of geese by at least one in the following year. Private shooting under licence (with bag limits) would incur no net cost but the effects might be less coordinated and impacts on the goose population are harder to predict than for publicly funded shooting. Revoking the derogation to shoot on Islay would have support amongst conservation organisations and would make substantial costs savings and address concerns about the effects of the shooting on both the Greenland Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Goose populations but effects on the goose population would be uncertain. There is a case for ceasing publicly-funded shooting (because the cost per goose exceeds damage costs), and also to cease other forms of publicly-funded scaring (because of concerns over the effects of scaring on Greenland White-fronted Geese) but again impacts would be uncertain. The effects of a change in the status of Barnacle Goose to a quarry species on hunter behaviour are difficult to predict, and we suggest there would be a high risk of defaulting on conservation obligations in the absence of an effective hunting bag recording system.

For other Scottish quarry populations, and particularly Greylag Geese currently, there is a need for more coherent policy, including the procurement of better information on populations and impacts. We suggest that the lack of an appropriate policy response now will increase the possibility of increasing damage from increasing populations, which over time will almost certainly lead to increased stakeholder tension (and could be seen as failing to meet one of SG's main Strategic Objectives, that of seeking to make Scottish society fairer). Actions to facilitate private and commercial shooting are the least cost options, allowing farmers and landowners to take action (if they so wish) to increase shooting and further mitigate against agricultural damage. The feasibility of many of the possible options (within and outside the open season) would be greater if: better information to allow population modelling to predict the effects of increased take with reduced uncertainty was available; an appropriate system for recording hunting bag data were in place; and thus a process of adaptive management could be fully implemented. Without these safeguards, there would be risks of defaulting on conservation obligations. There are currently significant barriers to the utility of shooting as a management tool on land under crofting tenure (where shooting rights do not lie with the tenant), with particularly acute issues in the Uists. We suggest that the alternative of egg oiling is not good value for money based on current evidence. Any move to allow the sale of goose carcasses or the large scale removal of geese from the naturally occurring populations (as advocated by some farming and crofting interests) would be risky in terms of conservation obligations without a suitable bag recording scheme and robust systems for regulation.

Of the possible management options for quarry species, several are more feasible for managing non-native species (i.e. Canada Goose) because there is no conservation obligation to manage populations sustainably (and more obligation to reduce population size and impact). The main barriers to action in Scotland currently are the costs of, and likely public opposition to, population management.

S7.3 Options for over-arching future policy delivery

We examined seven funding and administrative options for future delivery of policy. These are summarised with their rationale in Table S1.

  • Option 1 (No intervention) provides the maximum saving in budget costs but it is highly unlikely that policy could be delivered by legal mechanisms alone. The options would provoke strong reaction from farming interests due to the effects of goose damage on income and the loss of current measures.
  • Option 2 (Continued current delivery structure) has many undesirable features (including, poor governance and scrutiny, lack of transparency, expected inability to deliver policy change or constrain future policy costs). Whilst several options exist for reducing the costs of current mechanisms (particularly the LGMSs; see S4.2), these would not remove the fundamental issues associated with the current weaknesses, which are considerable.
  • Option 3 (Modified current delivery structure) addresses many of the current weaknesses whilst retaining the NGMRG/ LGMG structure. NGMRG would set budgets for each group linked to tight conditions on organization, governance and reporting. There would be the facility to establish groups, offer management agreements and intervene to obtain improved monitoring data. Nevertheless there is some doubt as to whether the existing consensus structure is sufficiently robust to deliver substantial budget cuts or intervene to reduce damage by facilitating more flexibility in shooting or other methods.
  • In Option 4 (Centralised delivery) policy is delivered via SG/ SNH with advisory groups at national and local levels, using management agreements offered to individual farmers on a least cost of provision basis. This option has the potential for a more focused and cost-effective approach to policy delivery with the ability to deliver greater cuts in public expenditure. It has the possible demerit of removing the buffering system and local buy-in provided by the current structure.
  • For Options 5 & 6 (delivery via SRDP) it is not possible to provide full evaluation because the characteristics of the new programme have yet to be decided (or appropriately negotiated if there is a desire to include more specific goose options within SRDP in future). It is doubtful whether SRDP, even when revised, could deliver goose policy effectively. However, it merits consideration because the inclusion of geese in a more unified structure has the potential for administrative gains, and trade-offs between different directions of expenditure would be more explicit.
  • Option 7 ( SFP/National Envelopes/ LFASS) has the attraction of administrative simplicity and geographical coverage, but reaching such a position would require adjustments to current arrangements that may be difficult to achieve and will in any case still result in only very blunt instruments, with poor targeting and flexibility.

It is not possible to recommend a delivery option because we do not know to what extent goose policy will face budgetary pressure and options differ in their resilience to deliver cuts. Nor are the details of a revised SRDP available and this limits evaluation. Even so, we consider that there is a case for continued intervention but that the current arrangements cannot satisfactorily deliver policy in the future. Both Options 3 and 4 would improve effectiveness and address current weaknesses. Option 4 has the merit of greater coherence in delivery and much improved governance at some cost to local ownership. Option 6 ( SRDP) would not deliver goose policy very effectively without support from other mechanisms but it has merit as a cost-saving measure and inclusion of geese in a more integrated land use policy, although acceptability to stakeholders may be low.

Table S1: Alternative finance sources and policy mechanisms for future goose policy delivery.





1. No intervention

Legal and monitoring only

Intervention restricted to legal mechanisms and monitoring required for international obligations and policy review.

To minimise public expenditure in a context of agricultural support provided by other mechanisms (including SFP, LFASS).

2. Continued current delivery structure


Continuation of the current structure and delivery system without change or improvement.

Current system is well tested and has been successful in improving the level of cooperation and harmony between interest groups.

3. Modified current delivery structure


Retain the basic structure but introduce modifications to improve governance, accountability and delivery, and reduce costs.

This option seeks to improve the current delivery system without changing its fundamental two-tier structure. It could also deliver substantial budgetary savings. Removes many weaknesses from the current delivery system.

4. Centralised delivery


Delivery by SG/ SNH with national and local advisory groups. Direct management agreements with farmers.

This option greatly improves governance and accountability, and links payments more closely to policy objectives. It reduces the limitations imposed by consensus management on policy delivery and value for money. Hence it provides a lower budget, cost-effective delivery mechanism.

5. Delivery via bespoke SRDP options


Bespoke goose options within a revised SRDP.

Uses part EU funding to finance goose management, thus lowering domestic funding needs. Fits well with the SG policy of greater integration of measures relating to land use and the environment. This allows the trade-off between expenditure on geese and other environmental and development projects to be internalised in the selection process. In principle, this results in enhanced value for public expenditure and lower administration costs.

6. Delivery via standard SRDP options.


Non-goose-specific SRDP options relating to (e.g.) grassland management. Under CCAGS, LMOs and RP.

Uses part EU funding to finance goose management and thus lowers domestic funding needs. Reliance on standard SRDP options avoids bespoke complexity and simplifies governance issues.

7. Delivery via modified SFP, National Envelopes, LFASS


Simple per hectare payments

Greater use of EU funding (especially SFP/National Envelopes, partly for LFASS) and thus less reliance on domestic funds. Wide spatial coverage and relatively simple to administer.


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