Goose management policy in Scotland: 2010 review

Review of goose management policy in Scotland conducted in 2010.

8 Conclusions

8.1 Status of Scottish goose populations, conservation obligations and knowledge gaps

Scotland has legal obligations for all naturally occurring species: to ensure the maintenance of range and abundance, and that any use (e.g. hunting) or management of populations is sustainable (Section 2.1). Legally, naturally occurring populations cannot be driven to extinction; and adaptive management of populations (Section 2.7.1) to meet cultural and economic as well as conservation needs is acceptable as long as resultant populations are sustainable.

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 naturalised Greylag Goose (which we now treat as a single population); Icelandic Pink-footed Goose; and Taiga Bean Goose (Section 2.5 and Table 2.5). This broadly suggests that goose policy has served Scottish geese well in terms of the first principle objective of the NPF - to "Meet the UK's nature conservation obligations, within the context of wider biodiversity objectives" - and the majority of stakeholders concur with this view (see national stakeholder questionnaire responses on the SG website), although we cannot be certain to what extent the positive population changes have been driven by policy (Section 2.6).

The Scottish population of Greenland White-fronted Goose declined by 34% between 1999/2000 and 2008/2009 (with the largest proportional decline on Islay). Some other flocks also showed decreases and some of the smaller flocks have disappeared over recent decades (Section 2.5.3). Whilst there is strong evidence that factors outside Scotland (on the breeding grounds) are contributing to the decline, we suggest that policy could have done more to prioritise actions for this species, particularly within the Islay Local Goose Management Scheme. The lack of understanding of the habitat requirements of Greenland White-fronted Goose, and of the interaction between this species and Greenland Barnacle Goose on Islay (including with respect to the effects of scaring), are of concern (Section 2.5.3).

The Scottish population of Icelandic Greylag Goose has increased little since 2000 but a large shift in the wintering distribution has occurred, so that the majority of the Scottish population now winters on Orkney rather than further south (Section 2.5.3). Scottish goose policy could have done more to react to this situation, for example by ensuring the collection of higher quality population data to inform the changes. This reflects an overall weakness of the current National Policy Framework, that of not proactively addressing emerging goose issues ( Chapter 3).

The UK has international obligation to control the impacts of non-native species (Section 2.1). There has been a large increase in the Scottish Canada Goose population since 2000 (Section 2.5.9). We suggest there is a real risk that this species could: compete with native goose species; hybridize with the native Greylag Goose; and potentially cause serious environmental and economic impacts in future (Section 2.7.6). In England, action has been taken to add Canada Goose to Schedule 2 Part II of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (to allow 'general licensing' for the species to be taken during the closed season), which we suggest is a positive step in terms of managing future risks posed by the species.

We suggest that future goose policy in Scotland should consider carefully and immediately whether Canada Goose should be added to Schedule 2 Part II of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (as passed in England in 2010). At the very least, future goose policy must keep a careful watching brief on the Scottish Canada Goose population, including maintaining the periodic national surveys of naturalized goose species. We also suggest that the effects of placing Canada Goose on the general licence in England are reviewed in five years time to assess whether the legislative change has had any discernable effect on population levels in England.

As the populations of most Scottish geese are now increasing, it is important that future policy development evaluates carefully the balance required between the first two fundamental objectives of the NPF: appropriate protection (to meet conservation obligations); and active management (to mitigate economic loss). We suggest that the Scottish Government takes a species (population)-focussed approach to future policy (Section 7.4) because the balance between these two NPF objectives varies between goose species, and we suggest the overall level of priority that each of the main Scottish goose populations should receive within future policy (Section 2.7 and Table 2.12) based on: (i) the current risk of Scotland defaulting on its conservation obligations and agreements for that species; and (ii) the likely future costs posed by each species to society (in terms of the likelihood of increases in conflicts with agriculture and thus increasing economic costs).

In future, the NPF"seeks to facilitate adoption of adaptive management techniques as a means to deliver social and economic sustainability of land management businesses in areas frequented by significant goose populations, while also ensuring compliance with legal obligations under the EU Birds Directive". Scottish goose policy has already taken useful steps towards adaptive management approaches by developing predictive models for the main goose populations. However, the models for most populations are information deficient in some respect (particularly lacking accurate bag data for quarry species, adult survival information, and basic census information for some populations) and there remains a high degree of uncertainty in predicted population trajectories in many cases (Sections 2.7.2 and 2.7.3).

We suggest that SG consider in more detail the US and Canadian approaches to adaptive management, and any lessons that have been learnt from their experiences, during future policy development.

We suggest that before any further PVA/population modelling work is commissioned, a clear standard framework is set up, which stipulates: (i) clear population/management objectives or scenarios; (ii) explicit and comprehensive treatment and reporting of uncertainty/risk; and (iii) clear and comprehensive assessment of the sensitivity of model predictions to variation in all input parameters. This would ensure that each new piece of modelling, in following the framework guidance, and will include critical assessment of model performance and thus render the modelling of greater utility for applied goose management purposes.

We suggest that following implementation of our suggestion to set out a standard framework to guide PVA/modelling analyses, future PVAs should address explicitly the sensitivity of the modelling to the demographic input parameters (including survival rates). The results could then be used to further prioritise data collection by species more efficiently, both in terms of individual priority species and sample sizes required.

Future data collection to improve the situation cannot be prioritised fully, or the relative value for money of various options costed effectively, until the sensitivity of the models to variation in the key input parameters is more transparent but we have nevertheless made some suggestions for maintaining data collection in the short term (Section 2.7.3). In general we concur with the previous recommendations of GSAG with respect to their priorities for the continuation of data collection on population size and productivity for the main Scottish goose populations (Table 2.13). Periodic population size assessments and measures of productivity are important components of the population models, and much of the data collection is carried out by volunteers (see Appendix E), providing very good value for money (Section 2.7.3). We would concur with the view of GSAG that because of this, those surveys that are carried out on an annual basis should continue to run annually, because otherwise volunteers may move away from goose monitoring in the period between surveys (for example if surveying were reduced from annual to biennial). Thus we generally score the continuation of population monitoring as high priority across all the main goose species (Table 2.13). Productivity information is often also collected by volunteers or at little extra cost. It is certainly cheaper to obtain information on productivity to inform population models than on survival rates (below), such that the availability of rigorous productivity information will serve to reduce some of the uncertainty in population prediction at minimal cost, and we place high priority on continuing to collect this data for most species (Table 2.13).

We suggest that the collection of population size and productivity information (as outlined in Table 2.13) should be supported until such time as PVAs/modelling can be revised to address sensitivity and uncertainty explicitly (as suggested above). In the event that funding is insufficient to support this, data collection should be prioritized in accordance with the overall population priorities suggested in Table 2.12.

We suggest that improved monitoring of the wintering population of Icelandic Greylag Geese is ensured through improved counts of breeding Greylags in areas of overlap, and the use of the enhanced population estimates to check current bag limits and adjust them accordingly.

We suggest that ringing should be supported at least at current levels for Greenland White-fronted Goose, Icelandic Greylag Goose and Svalbard Barnacle Goose, and improved if possible for Native Greylag Goose and Greenland Barnacle Goose, until such time as PVAs/modelling can be revised to address sensitivity and uncertainty explicitly (as suggested above). In the event that funding is insufficient to support this, ringing of these species should be prioritized in accordance with the overall population priorities suggested in Table 2.12.

The UK has a legal obligation to ensure that any hunting is sustainable (Section 2.1). Information on numbers of birds hunted is important to ensure that hunting does not jeopardize the sustainability of populations. The population modelling carried out for Scottish goose species to date has shown that predicted population trajectories are most sensitive to survival rates for most populations (Section 2.5), and numbers of birds shot are necessary to allow density-dependent processes to be adequately reflected in the modelling (i.e. whether mortality from shooting is additive or compensatory). There is currently no comprehensive system (either mandatory or voluntary) for collecting hunting bag information in the UK (Section 2.7.3). The notable shift in the wintering distribution of Icelandic Greylags (Section 2.5.4) has introduced more uncertainty over the UK bag estimates. Hunting may be the most important factor determining the population numbers of Icelandic Greylag Goose (Trinder 2010), and the level of shooting mortality has an important influence on the population trajectories of the other resident Greylag population and that of the Pink-footed Goose (Sections 2.5.5 and 2.5.6). The majority of national stakeholders expressed concerns about the inadequacy of current reporting of numbers shot (Section 4.4.6).

We suggest that further steps towards the implementation of a rigorous hunting bag reporting system in Scotland are taken without further delay (voluntary versus mandatory systems are contrasted in Section 2.7.3 and Table 2.9). We recommend that further detailed information and critique on operation is obtained from countries that already have voluntary and mandatory systems (indicated in Table F3), to better inform decision making. There may be an opportunity to include domestic hunting bag reporting legislation in the new Wildlife and Natural Enviroment Bill that is currently under consideration.

The remit of the current study included a specific need to consider the legitimacy or otherwise of permitting the sale of carcasses of quarry goose species (Section 2.7.5).

We suggest that a scoping study is commissioned to investigate further: (i) the market opportunities for goose products (and other goose benefits) across Scotland, with a particular emphasis on Greylags on the Western and Northern Isles; and (ii) practical options for tracking the origins of goose carcasses were permission to sell them to be reinstated. However, we conclude that any move to reinstate carcass sales in Scotland in the absence of a comprehensive hunting bag reporting system would involve a risk of defaulting on conservation obligations.

The part of the population of Greenland Barnacle Geese that winters on Islay (which is covered by a derogation allowing licensed shooting of this species to mitigate against economic losses; Section 2.7.7) has shown a decline (of more than 10,000 birds) over the last three winters. Breeding success may have decreased and most evidence suggests that birds have not redistributed from Islay to winter elsewhere (Section 2.5.2). However, given the degree of uncertainty surrounding the recent decline, at the very least the population modelling and survey information for this species should be updated and levels of uncertainty in population trajectories considered explicitly. Whether the derogation to shoot this species is justified needs to be reviewed fully, including the possible impacts of the scaring (disturbance) on Greenland White-fronted Geese on Islay (Sections 2.5.3 and 2.7.7).

We suggest that the derogation for shooting Greenland Barnacle Geese on Islay is reviewed and, at the very least, the population modelling and census information is updated and levels of uncertainty in population trajectories considered explicitly.

We suggest that in future Greenland White-fronted Geese and Barnacle Geese on Islay receive specific and separate treatment in the LGMS objectives and recording protocols. In particular: numbers and species of geese should be recorded in fields immediately before they are shot over; comprehensive field-by-field information should be collected on the implementation of non-shooting scaring devices, and the use of gas guns; and every opportunity should be taken to assemble more information regarding interactions between the two goose species.

We suggest that serious consideration be given to previous suggestions to take more of an experimental approach to assessing the affects of scaring on Islay, either via direct counts or using grass growth as a proxi for goose numbers, and a draft protocol with costings should be commissioned from an independent source. Given the concern over Whitefronts, an approach which records actual goose numbers in response to scaring for at least a sample of areas would be appropriate.

8.2 National policy framework and its delivery

The National Policy Framework ( NPF) and its delivery structures and organisations have been successful in reducing tensions between different interests through payments to farmers at levels related to the cost of goose damage. There has been less success in reducing tensions in areas where scaring and population management have been the policy mechanisms (Section 3.3). The cost of payments to farmers has increased substantially over time and constraints on public expenditure bring into question the sustainability of current policy.

In terms of the specific objectives of goose policy, the UK's nature conservation obligations are largely being met, with the exception of those for the Greenland White-fronted Goose (Section 2.6). Farmers and crofters who are scheme participants are receiving public support that largely mitigates damage costs (Section 3.3), although this is not the case outside of current schemes ( Chapter 5). There is little incentive within the current delivery mechanisms to improve the cost-effectiveness and value for money of public expenditure ( Chapter 3).

The current delivery system is 'light touch' with low administrative costs but its effectiveness to implement change is limited by its consensual basis and by the diverse quality of information provided by (and to) local groups ( Chapter 3). Local groups have generally been very successful in resolving local tensions, albeit with considerable public funding. The governance of local groups is not well developed and scheme design and budget allocation are in some cases not transparent, which gives cause for concern. Responsibility for governance, financial probity and scrutiny is undefined (Section 3.3).

We suggest that if a decision were to be taken to retain the current NPF delivery structures (which is only one of a number of possible options for future policy delivery; Section 7.5), then steps should be taken to improve the current delivery mechanisms in terms of transparency, good governance, communication and VFM efficiency (specific suggestions are provided in Chapters 3, 4 and 7).

The NPF does not provide a clear mechanism for addressing the substantial increase in the populations of most geese species (and related damage) observed since its inception in 2000. Nor is it clear that the structure established under the NPF is sufficiently robust to deliver substantial cuts in public expenditure should it be required to do so ( Chapter 3).

8.3 Economics of goose management

The opportunities for farmers and crofters to obtain private income from geese, except from shooting lets (where permitted), are limited. Goose-related tourism can benefit local economies and these effects are unlikely to be changed by any likely changes in goose populations. Goose tourism does not therefore impact on future policy or its delivery (Section 4.2.1).

The limited public preference research that has been conducted to date indicates the value of benefits from supporting 'endangered' species is considerably greater than policy costs (Section 4.2.2). But there is no evidence to support increases in goose populations exceeding 10%. Given the 17% increase in the Scottish goose population and the 76% increase in goose numbers in the scheme areas (plus Orkney) since 2000, the research suggests that current goose policy no longer provides value for money at the margin except for species still considered 'endangered'.

There is evidence for public preferences against shooting as a means of management if other methods of habitat management are available (Section 4.4.1). However, farming interests strongly support a relaxation of shooting restrictions to enable improved private management of quarry goose species (Section 4.4.3). A minority of interests favoured a relaxation of the sale of carcasses to provide local sources of income from geese (Section 4.4.4).

The cost of operating the seven current goose schemes is currently around £1.6m per year, of which £1.3m is in payments to farmers (Table 4.3). Schemes vary widely in the cost per goose (£13.80-£36.60 per goose per year in payments to farmers) but comparisons of costs between schemes must be made with caution because of different goose species and farming contexts (Section 4.5.1). There are cost and distributional concerns in relation to Kintyre (an unsatisfactory payment structure) and in Solway (a lack of transparency in budget allocation and costs). Both Strathbeg and Islay operate at relatively low cost per goose supported.

Schemes vary in their payment systems (flat rate per ha, or per goose) and whether distributed or zonal schemes are used. These different payment systems need a clearer rationale (Section 4.7.1) and we are not convinced that the concentrated (zoned) scheme necessarily provides a lower cost method of goose management than a distributed scheme (Section 4.7.2).

There are numerous options for reducing the public expenditure cost of the current schemes (Section 4.8 and Table 4.3). We consider that at least 30% of budgetary cost could be saved by stopping fertiliser payments (for which there is a strong argument) combined with some limited budgetary capping and some reduction in expenditure on scaring and counting without an extreme risk of compromising consensus or effectiveness. However, this analysis is within the context of the current NGMRG/ LGMG structure. Several alternative funding and administrative arrangements are examined in Chapter 7.

A number of areas in Scotland not in schemes have reported increasing levels of agricultural damage mainly due to Greylag Geese ( Chapter 5). An examination of options suggests that intervention to relax regulations on shooting is preferred by farming interests and is least cost for SG. Nevertheless, a more coherent generic policy is required for quarry goose populations, both to address current issues and the increasing social cost associated with growth in goose populations, whilst ensuring that conservation obligations continue to be met.

8.4 Policy context and funding mechanisms

NPF objectives are broadly compatible with the overarching "common Purpose" of the SG Economic Strategy ( Chapter 6 and Appendix I).

Goose management is currently supported mainly by domestic ( SG) funding, with support channelled through the SNH Natural Care budget. Conservation bodies contribute mainly through reserve management, and an EULIFE programme ( RSPB 2009a,b) will contribute in a number of locations in the Western Isles for four years from 2010. The main public funding options in the future will be either domestic or a mix of domestic and EU (through a revised SRDP). There is an SG interest in using the SRDP as a vehicle in order to obtain better policy integration and to reduce administrative costs. There is also an apparent gain to the SG budget from delivering via EU programmes in that the domestic contribution is reduced. However, if the total SRDP budget is effectively fixed, expenditure on geese reduces expenditure on other projects ( Chapter 6).

8.5 Goose management in the future

The National Policy Framework objectives create a very broad policy 'space' which fails to give a clear species-based strategy or deal adequately with policy costs (Section 7.4) 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. 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. Such a history of evolution of any such policy is almost inevitable. In the changing context in which goose policy in Scotland now sits (Section 1.2) - particularly with respect to increasing numbers of many species ( Chapter 2), emerging and related goose issues outside of existing goose scheme areas ( Chapter 5) 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.

We suggest that future goose policy and its delivery should be species (population)-based, both at national and local levels.

The range of options for future management of Scotland's goose populations logically fall into a number of groupings (Section 7.4 and Table 7.1) For naturally occurring (native) goose populations, this categorization is based on: qualitative assessment of the current level of risk to each population (and thus the risk of Scotland defaulting on its conservation obligations); and quarry status. Greenland White-fronted Goose should be prioritised to (if possible) prevent further population decline, and loss of range (from loss of smaller flocks), and the small Scottish population of Taiga Bean Geese also requires continued support (Section 7.4.1).

For populations not now at 'high risk', the available preference research suggests that the additional benefits to the public from population expansion are unclear. In this context, we suggest that policy could adapt to the current situation by placing a larger emphasis on seeking to minimise net social and public expenditure costs. A range of management options are explored for these populations, dependent on whether they are currently non-quarry or quarry populations (Section 7.4.2 and Tables 7.2 and 7.3).

For the two non-quarry populations of Barnacle Geese there are two main risks of maintaining the policy status quo (Section 7.4.2 and Table 7.2): the likely growing public costs of managing the populations as they continue to increase (particularly on the Solway); and the concerns over the derogation for shooting currently in place (Sections 2.5.2 and 2.5.3). 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 (Table 7.2). 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 on Islay 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 the effects would be uncertain (Table 4.3). The effects of a change in the status of Barnacle Goose to a quarry species on hunter behaviour are difficult to predict, and there would be a high risk of defaulting on conservation obligations in the absence of an effective hunting bag recording system.

For the Scottish populations of (non-'vulnerable' quarry species), and particularly Greylag Geese, there is a need for more coherent policy, including the procurement of better information on populations and impacts. The lack of a policy response now (or a future 'no intervention' policy) would 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 defaulting to meet one of SG's main Strategic Objectives, that of seeking to make Scottish society fairer (Section 7.4.2 and Table 7.3). 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. Many of the possible options (within and outside the open season; Table 7.3) would be more feasible 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. The alternative of egg oiling is not seen as providing 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 greater control of such populations in Scotland currently are the costs of, and likely public opposition to, any large-scale control programme.

8.6 Specific options for policy funding and delivery

Seven mechanisms (options) for future policy administration, funding and delivery are presented (Section 7.5). We conclude that policy could not be delivered by the current legal mechanisms alone and farming interests would react strongly to the cessation of payments. Although the current delivery structure has been successful at reducing tension and maintaining consensus, it does not provide value for money, has serious problems of governance and accountability, and may be unable to enact desirable policy change or cost control.

Modification of the remit of the NGMRG, with much tighter control of local schemes, and improved reporting and governance, would resolve some but not all of these issues. It is not clear, however, to what extent a consensus-based delivery system will be able to deliver budgetary cuts and other intervention required to deliver policy in future.

Centralised delivery through SG/ SNH, with supporting advisory input from stakeholders, would facilitate the delivery of species-based policy and resolve issues of governance, payment allocation and scrutiny. However, this would reduce the sense of local ownership and involvement that many stakeholders value, although this loss could be mitigated to some extent by retaining the NGMRG and local goose groups in advisory roles.

The use of the SRDP as a delivery mechanism cannot be evaluated fully until the structure of the new programme is known, or at least there is a clearer picture of the extent to which a future structure more suitable for coordinated goose management could be negotiated (as would be required). The SRDP was not a route favoured by any major stakeholder and is unlikely to be able to deliver policy in a coherent way given the specific coordinated intervention (by species and location) that goose management requires. However, from an SG perspective, SRDP reduces public expenditure and provides a more integrated and administratively direct delivery route.

Delivery via modified SFP/National Envelope/ LFASS would provide significant cost savings but be a blunt instrument for policy delivery, with poor targeting and little flexibility. Tensions would arise both due to reduced intervention in relation to goose damage and any redistribution of funding that would be required.


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