Goose management policy in Scotland: 2010 review

Review of goose management policy in Scotland conducted in 2010.

17 Appendix H: Other schemes, management agreements relating to geese and areas with goose issues

For details of the basis of this appendix, please refer to the introduction to Appendix G.

17.1 SNH funded schemes and agreements

17.1.1 The Slamannan Plateau Bean Goose Management Scheme

Species and site designation

The Slamannan Plateau, which lies between Falkirk and Cumbernauld in central Scotland, supports a nationally important population of Taiga Bean Geese. Numbers have increased from their arrival in the 1980s to an average of 250-300 birds, over 53% of the GB population ( SNH 2006a; JNCC 2010b)). Monitoring at the Slammanan Plateau and recommendations for change are described in Appendix E.

The plateau was designated a 591 ha SPA in 2008 ( JNCC 2010b), in response to development pressure, and includes an RSPB reserve of 59ha. The local authorities have developed a joint Bean Goose Species Action Plan 66.

The habitat consists of areas of peatland, wetland and rough and improved grassland but little information is available on damage to grazing caused by the geese. They have a preference for improved grass but the effects are probably small given the numbers involved and the period during which they are present. There seems to be no history of conflict between Bean Geese and agriculture in this area.

Natural Care Scheme

SNH launched a Natural Care scheme for the area in 2006 with the aim of rewarding and supporting land managers for managing land in a way that maintains habitat for the geese. Farmers may apply for a 5-year agreement having produced a management plan. Scheme payments depend on the prescriptions agreed in the plan. The main annual payment is £90/ha for management of grassland for Bean Geese. The scheme is now closed to new entrants.

There are 16 owners and 3 occupiers of land within the Plateau. Of these, 4 occupiers on 216.2ha have entered the scheme and in 2009 a total of £4,940 was distributed in payments.

There has been no formal evaluation of the success of the scheme.


This is a small-scale intervention to support the habitat of the Bean Goose. The context is one well suited to appropriately prescribed MAs which can be effected with minimal transaction costs. It is understood that options for a follow-on scheme (possibly under SRDP) on termination of the current 5-year agreements are being considered.

17.1.2 Solway Merse Management Scheme 67

The Solway Merse Management Scheme offers 5-year management agreements ( MAs) to farmers with land on the Merse to adhere to a grazing management plan. Grazing levels are controlled to give variations in sward height and diversity and late summer grazing makes the area more attractive for overwintering birds. A breeding wader supplement is available, which allows light grazing during nesting time.

This is not specifically a goose scheme, although Barnacle and other goose species graze the Merse and benefit from the conditions imposed under the MAs. A number of farmers in the Solway LGMS participate in the Merse scheme. There is no double funding since land entered in the Merse scheme is not eligible for LGMS-related payments.

17.1.3 Agreements at Danna and Luing (Argyll)

Management agreements ( MAs) with a small number of farmers have been established in two areas where Greenland White-fronted and Barnacle Geese are causing agricultural damage. On the Ulva Danna and McCormaig Isles SSSI four farms have MAs that include goose management measures. Some MAs include other measures relating, for example, to saltmarsh habitat not specifically related to geese. Prescriptions include restrictions on cattle grazing and a requirement for fencing to control grazing. Payments are typically £73 per ha, and around £4,500 per year in total for the scheme.

At Luing there is one 5-year agreement on 30.6 ha to support Greenland Barnacle Geese. The land is not designated (e.g. SPA or SSSI). Payments are at £210.20 per ha plus the cost of additional fertiliser to give a total of £6,430 per year. There are non-scaring and grassland condition obligations within the contract.

17.1.4 Other SNH agreements relating to geese

There are a small number of other SNHMAs that have a specific goose component. These typically relate to individual farms where Annex 1 species graze.

17.2 Orkney

17.2.1 Context

The wintering Greylag Goose population in Orkney has been increasing almost exponentially over the last 20 years and consequently Orkney has become the most important area in Britain for Icelandic Greylags (see sections 2.5.4 and 2.5.5).

This is causing an increasing level of damage to agriculture though grazing and trampling, particularly in the January to April period ( SAC, 2009). The availability of spring grass and silage yields is reduced. Reseeding frequency has to be increased where there is intense grazing and puddling by geese. Resident Greylag Geese also reduce the yields of barley, swedes, straw yield and later silage cuts. There therefore appear to be important impacts on farming, although these have not been quantified in the field through surveys. The effect of goose damage on farm incomes has also not been quantified.

Based on the 2007 June census, there are 54,200 ha of grassland and crops in Orkney (Churchill et al. 2009). This suggests a mean goose density of around 1.48 per hectare. However, density is thought to vary considerably but comprehensive data on goose distribution do not existent.

17.2.2 Goose species and designations

Greylags are widely spread throughout Orkney with very large counts on Mainland ( SNH, 2008). The wintering Greylag Goose population is a mix of resident and migratory (Icelandic) birds. There are no SPAs designated for any goose species on Mainland Orkney (there is one on Switha; Section 16.5.2).

Local RSPB staff members consider that there are negative impacts of the Greylags on some other species, including Red-throated divers and possibly Hen harriers but the evidence for this is unclear.

SNH (2008 based on suggestions presented by Eric Meek of RSPB) suggest three possible explanations as to why there has been a large increase in the number of geese overwintering in Orkney:

  • Climate change, producing higher winter temperatures, is allowing geese to winter further north than they have in the past. Orkney does not usually get any significant snowfall or long periods of frost. As a result, grass stays green during the winter and continues to grow at a slow rate.
  • The quantity of forage in Orkney has increased and been maintained at a high quality, providing the birds with a very rich food source.
  • Shooting pressure in the former wintering grounds further south in mainland Scotland is great enough to persuade birds that Orkney is a safer wintering location (note, there is no direct evidence that shooting pressure on the mainland has changed in recent years).

17.2.3 Monitoring

Counts of wintering Greylag Geese, which will include both the Icelandic and the naturalised population, have been carried out since 1980. At one time single counts covering the islands were carried out in October but more recently single counts have been carried out in November and December instead. The peak count (usually December) is then used as the population estimate. Numbers of Greylag Geese are recorded by island, and Mainland is divided into eastern and western areas. To date, RSPB staff members and volunteers have undertaken the counts but as the population has increased in number and range across the islands, it is becoming logistically more difficult to carry out comprehensive counts with the limited resources available. The data are also submitted to the Icelandic Grey Goose Survey (coordinated by WWT) and also provided to SNH at no charge.

Counts of the breeding population of Greylag Geese are not carried out on an annual basis and the last survey was in 2008 as part of the 2008/2009 survey of Greylag Geese in Scotland coordinated by WWT. Information on the breeding population is important however, to allow calculation of the true numbers of Icelandic Greylag Geese from the counts of the combined total of wintering Greylag Geese (both Icelandic and naturalised).

Figure H1: Numbers of wintering Greylag Geese on Orkney (Data provided by RSPB). Note that these counts include both wintering Icelandic and resident Greylag Geese.

Figure H1

The most recent estimate of the wintering Greylag Geese (including both Icelandic and resident) was 80,539 birds in the winter of 2009/2010 (Figure H1). In the early 1980s, very small numbers overwintered on Orkney and it was only in the winter of 1986/1987 that the numbers exceeded 1000 birds for the first time (Meek 2007). Since then the numbers of wintering Greylag Geese have increased dramatically (Figure H1). In the early 1990s, it was estimated that less than 1% of the Icelandic Greylag wintering population was located on Orkney. By 2008, however, it was estimated that 54.7% of the population overwintered on Orkney, with a peak count of 68,349 geese recorded in December (Mitchell 2009).

The breeding population of Greylag Geese on Orkney was estimated to be approximately 10,000 birds in 2008 but numbers are likely to have increased since then. Greylag Geese first bred in mainland Orkney in 1987 following releases (of geese of South Uist stock) on the island of Shapinsay earlier that decade. By 1991 it was estimated that there were approximately 50 pairs breeding on Orkney and by 2002 it was thought that there were around 300 pairs (Meek 2003). The population of breeding Greylags may not all be of re-established origin however. It has also been proposed that some Icelandic Greylags are staying to breed on Orkney (Meek 2007, Trinder et al. 2009), although there is little direct evidence to support this theory. In addition, there are records of native Greylag Geese originating from Loch Loyal in Sutherland and now breeding on Orkney (Meek 2007).

17.2.4 Shooting

BASC (2009) estimated the harvest of Greylags on Orkney at around 3,000 birds per season, the majority being Icelandic (migratory) Greylag Geese. Italian shooters (with guides not limited by BASC registration) are principally responsible for the harvest. BASC registered guides have agreed to abide by the voluntary bag limits (2 greylag goose per hunter per shoot) applied to commercial goose shooting, which places a major restriction on the scope for increasing commercial shooting by BASC registered guides.

Commercial shooting is confined to the open season (Sept 1 st -January 31 st). In the closed season, farmers can apply for licences for which there are strict bag limits imposed (see section 2.2). Whilst this provides legal cover for shooting to scare, it appears to have had a negligible impact on Greylag numbers. Closed season licence applications have increased over the last five years and in total 25 licences were granted in 2009, with a total bag limit of 460 ( a minimum of 194 birds were actually shot).

17.2.5 Policy development to date

There is no organised local group representing all interests on Orkney and no LGMG proposal has been made to NGMRG for a formal LGMS. However, in an attempt to address the issue, SNH (2008) proposed a one-season pilot scheme to assist in reseeding and scaring costs on 12 farms that had regularly applied for licences to shoot. The pilot scheme budget was £11,270.

NGMRG agreed that support should be provided for the project as an investigation into the sorts of goose management options that might need to be assimilated into policy in future. But NGMRG made no commitment to supporting a goose scheme on Orkney beyond the trial period. NGMRG were of the opinion that a greater element of self- help could be demonstrated on Orkney and recommended that an active scaring strategy should be implemented across the islands. In addition, NGMRG considered there was insufficient evidence on which to act. However, it was not clear exactly what form of evidence was required or how it could be obtained.

The pilot scheme was taken up on only seven widely dispersed farms in 2009 (total area 1795 ha; reseed area 83 ha). Farmers were expected to count the geese, and use canes and streamers to test their efficacy on reseeded grass. On average 45% of the fields on the farms were used by geese and, assuming this represents 45% of the farm area, the mean density across the farms on the used fields was 3.51 geese per ha (range 1.18-6.52). Across the whole farm area the mean was 1.87 geese per ha. These densities are in the context of an unspecified level of scaring. To put these density figures in perspective, the comparison for Islay in 2008/09 (mean across farms) was 6.51 geese per ha. Comparison is difficult because on Islay the context was a management scheme where on most of the area it was not permitted to scare. However, on the assumption that the seven participant farms were amongst the worst affected on Orkney, the suggestion is that a small number of farms are facing significant problems but that more precise density data are needed to clarify the position.

Based on the pilot scheme, it was concluded that "due to the wide dispersal and high mobility of wintering Greylags and the apparent variation in fields' attractiveness to geese, it would be premature to consider a standardised scheme across Orkney" (Churchill et al. 2009). However, the study does offer some encouragement for a scheme based on passive scaring targeted at reseeds that are attractive to geese. This project has not been repeated in 2010.

17.2.6 Management options suggested by farmers

At a public meeting in March 2010 to discuss the goose issue, there was widespread concern about the increasing population of geese and their impact on farming and farm incomes. Many farmers considered that scaring geese only displaced the problem to other farmers. Most suggestions put forward at the meeting were focussed on reducing the population as follows:

  • Put greylag geese on a general restricted licence to permit shooting in June, July and August in addition to the current open season (protecting the pre-migration wintering Icelandic greylags but allowing the resident birds to be shot in the summer).
  • Repeal the Act that makes it illegal to sell grey goose meat.
  • Cull the breeding population during the moulting period.

As a measure to facilitate the management of geese the potential use of the LMO option in SRDP was suggested.

17.2.7 Conclusion

There is currently evidence to suggest that a goose damage problem exists but insufficient to identify the range of goose densities present, and the extent and spatial distribution of the damage. It seems that a number of farms are affected to a (marked) degree.

The pilot scheme provided support to farmers who applied for licences and were presumed to be suffering significant damage. Scaring on its own largely displaces the problem spatially, although it can reduce damage on heavily affected farms. However, it will fail to provide a solution in the long term if population growth continues.

The evidence is that commercial and farmer-led shooting has not managed the increase in total population size. The prospects for a major increase in commercial shooting seem small under current regulations and policy and further investigation would be required to determine the extent to which the regulatory framework is limiting harvests.

The high mobility and dispersion of the Greylags present problems for scheme design, since it is not clear whether the standard designation of buffer/feeding areas would attract geese away from other areas.

17.3 Caithness

17.3.1 Context

Farmers have reported damage from Icelandic Greylag Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese for many years but some evidence suggests that this is increasing. Problems are occurring on farms near the Caithness Lochs SPA. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the damage occurring in the spring is getting worse and that this spring damage is now of greater agricultural concern ( SNH, 2006b). The main problem appears to be caused by migratory (Icelandic) Greylag Geese and the fact that they are staying longer (into May). The impact is on the spring grazing, the first silage cut, barley and turnips. The frequency of re-seeding has had to be increased on some farms. There are no estimates of the impact of the damage on farm incomes.

It seems that a small number of farms near the SPA are severely affected, with lesser damage widespread but erratic.

17.3.2 Goose species and numbers

There are around 230 Greenland White-fronted Geese and 8,000 (probably largely wintering Icelandic) Greylags in the area of concern. The Greylag population roosts on the Caithness Lochs SPA and numbers have increased from 6,800 in 1995/96 to 8,700 in 2001/02. WWT counts in the 2009/10 winter indicate a population peak count of about 12,000 for Caithness as a whole (this peak varied from ca 3,000 - 13,000 individuals but showed no clear trend between the winters of 1995/1996 and 2005/2006 according to figures assembled by the local group in 2006). There seems to be a lack of clear data on roost-related numbers, and Icelandic and re-established Greylags cannot be distinguished in the counts.

The Caithness Lochs SPA comprises seven SSSIs. In terms of status:

  • Icelandic Greylag Geese are a qualifying species for four SSSIs and the Caithness Lochs SPA ;
  • Native Greylag Geese are a qualifying feature of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Ramsar site (under criterion 3c); and
  • Greenland White-fronted Geese are a qualifying species for three SSSIs and the Caithness Lochs SPA.

17.3.3 Shooting

Farmers affected by geese attempt to scare them off. There is only limited commercial goose shooting in the area and few farmers shoot. Only 5 or 6 farmers apply for closed season licences, in part due to the associated administrative requirements but also because they feel they do not have the time to carry out shooting themselves during the busy spring period. The SGRPID Thurso office reported 10 Greylag Geese shot under licence in 2009.

17.3.4 Policy development to date

There is a local group consisting of SNH, SEERAD and Caithness NFUS representatives. In 2006 the group approached NGMRG with an in-principle request for a goose management scheme (The Caithness Lochs SPA and Greenland White-fronted Goose scheme for Caithness). The proposal is to develop a goose scheme which would support:

  • the creation of sacrificial sanctuary areas around the Caithness Lochs SPA where the Icelandic Greylag Geese are feeding. No shooting would occur on these areas;
  • A wider zone around the sanctuary areas where scaring tactics would be employed to encourage use of the sanctuary areas;
  • A targeted scheme for Greenland White-fronted Geese.

The proposal was not accepted by NGMRG. It was considered that the issues concerning Greenland White-fronted Geese would best be addressed through SNH's Natural Care programme. SNH did not proceed because there was found to be no specific issue associated with the White-fronts.

As regards the Greylags, similar issues had been reported from Orkney and Greylags may move between Caithness and Orkney. Hence it was felt important to consider the areas together. The presumption against schemes for grey goose species (with no special protection needs) except in exceptional circumstances was used by NGMRG and it was suggested that the LGMG might obtain further evidence to support the case for a scheme.

The LGMG has become inactive since the 2006 application, but some farmers in the area are considering possible alternative sources of funding for goose management, including local biodiversity funding and funding under a possible SRDPLMO option.

17.3.5 Conclusion

The main goose issue is one of an increasing population of Greylags causing damage on a small number of farms near the SPA. There is a lack of specific count information and data on the distribution of geese, and on the actual damage to farming interests. However, such data are costly to obtain and it seems unlikely that the farmers affected are willing to finance data gathering given the uncertainly about obtaining a management scheme.

Although there is a policy mechanism available to address the Greylag issue in Caithness (as at Loch of Strathbeg), it is clear that NGMRG has not wished to engage in schemes for species not requiring special protection except in exceptional circumstances. Caithness does not appear to meet that particular NGMRG criterion.

Although NGMRG considered that this issue would be best addressed though the SNH Natural Care scheme, this has not been taken forward and funding for this scheme is uncertain. SRDP may be a potential source of funding.

17.4 Lochaber, Spean and Roy Bridge

17.4.1 Context, goose species and numbers

Five years ago Greylag Geese appeared around Arisaig and Bunnacaime, and Canada Geese in the Great Glen. There are thought to be about 200 Greylags and an unknown number of Canada Geese. Both species are resident. The main impact on the farming interest is on spring grass for silage, hay and grazing, with delayed turnout. There has been damage to barley crops. Damage is localised but it is not known how many farms are affected.

17.4.2 Policy development to date

There is no formal group and no approach has been made to NGMRG, although a meeting was held with SNH in 2008.

17.4.3 Scaring and shooting

Scaring has not been very effective and merely moves birds to neighbouring fields. Some farmers with licences and the local estate have been actively shooting and this has helped to contain numbers. Closed season licences are readily available.

17.4.4 Other mechanisms

There was a limited interest in management agreements to assist in managing the geese.

17.4.5 Conclusion

Goose damage appears to be quite restricted and shooting has assisted in containing numbers. The case for intervention without further evidence is weak.


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