Goose management policy in Scotland: 2010 review

Review of goose management policy in Scotland conducted in 2010.

1 Introduction

1.1 Background to current Scottish Goose Management Policy and Structure

Scotland hosts a number of populations of wild geese, some migratory and some resident. Such populations form an important part of Scotland's natural heritage, providing ecological, economic and social value in terms of their natural role in ecosystems and the benefits they bring to the public. All wild geese are afforded protection under nature conservation legislation and some populations hosted in Scotland are subject to special protection because of low population size or other aspects of their ecology that render them vulnerable to adverse change. The presence of geese can also impose costs in some situations, however, in terms of damage to agricultural activities and negative effects on other species and habitats. Following a period of decline in the early to mid 20 th Century, goose numbers increased in Scotland such that by the early 1990s farmers and crofters affected by significant numbers of grazing geese came to regard them as agricultural pests in some areas, leading to conflict between agricultural and nature conservation interests. Consequently, the management of wild goose populations in Scotland has been subject to policy interventions for some time.

A number of local goose schemes were launched in the 1990s, accompanied by publicly funded assistance to mitigate potential damage and the costs incurred to improved grassland and other crops in localised areas. In 1996, the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department produced a discussion paper that reviewed the state of the relationship between geese and agriculture at that time and listed a range of possible measures that could be used to assist goose management in Scotland, including potential payments to farmers, greater use of scaring and measures that might encourage greater recreational shooting ( SOAEFD 1996). In 1997, to address what was perceived by farmers as an increasing problem and against a background of considerable tension in some geographical areas, the National Goose Forum ( NGF) was established by Scottish Ministers to develop a National Policy Framework ( NPF) for managing the interaction between geese and agriculture. The NGF presented initial recommendations for goose policy, and an institutional structure as a delivery mechanism, to Scottish Ministers in February 2000 (Scottish Executive 2000). Their report was adopted as the basis for a new NPF in April 2000, after consultation with interested stakeholders.

The adopted (2000) NPF had three core objectives as its guiding principles:

  • Meet the UK's nature conservation obligations.
  • Minimise the economic loss to farmers.
  • Maximise the value for money of public expenditure.

The NPF was designed to resolve conflict and provide a structure for goose management by bringing together relevant interests to develop concensus management at both national and local levels. Following the NGF recommendations on how policy should be implemented, the National Goose Management Review Group ( NGMRG) was convened in May 2000 as a national body to coordinate implementation of the national policy framework and to advise Scottish Ministers on the effectiveness of, and any need to adjust, goose management in Scotland. The NGMRG brought together appropriate stakeholders from nature conservation, agricultural and shooting interests, under a Scottish Government Chair and Secretariat provided by Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH). It facilitates robust yet constructive debate between the competing interests.

In addition to a strategic and advisory role, the NGMRG had a number of associated functions (Recommendation 24 of Scottish Executive 2000). One of these core tasks was to evaluate proposals for setting up Local Goose Management Schemes ( LGMSs), to assess any approved schemes on an annual basis, and provide advice to Scottish Ministers on whether to accept new schemes or continue existing schemes. The first four LGMSs established under the new policy framework were recommended by NGMRG to Ministers for approval in 2000 and operated from the winter of 2000/2001 onwards. There are currently seven approved LGMSs operating in Scotland, each limited to a restricted geographical area (Figure 1.1): five of these focus on migratory goose species, operate in the winter and spring and seek to establish disturbance-free feeding areas for geese with associated buffer zones (Islay, Kintyre, Solway, Loch of Strathbeg and South Walls, Orkney); the two remaining schemes deal with resident populations of Greylag Geese, operate during the summer and seek to reduce the impact of goose damage to crops through scaring and shooting (on Tiree and Coll, and on the Uists).

Figure 1.1 Approximate locations of areas currently eligible for Goose Management Schemes, Management Requirements and Payments (note that the map is intended only to show broad areas of Scotland, and areas eligible for payments may be more restricted).

Figure 1.1

Scottish Government's current policy on when to intervene in goose management (i.e. when to support proposals to develop LGMSs) was agreed in 2000 (Scottish Executive 2000). In brief, intervention is a last resort measure mainly for specially protected populations where the aim should be to both protect the species and minimise agricultural damage. There is a general presumption against management schemes for goose populations not requiring special protection.

Intervention has typically established undisturbed feeding areas (refuge areas) and buffer areas, so as to concentrate geese. There is a presumption that this will minimise damage (and associated tension with farmers). Delivery is largely devolved to Local Goose Management Groups ( LGMGs), which arrange: (i) management agreements with farmers to provide undisturbed grazing; and (ii) provision for support in scaring and shooting. LGMGs have considerable autonomy in organizing the schemes and this, together with diversity in local goose species, farming and land tenure, has resulted in a range of different approaches. Although schemes vary in their design, public support is generally available to assist with scaring and to address agricultural income foregone from reduced output (e.g. less available grazing land) and additional costs (e.g. extra feedstuffs, higher fertiliser usage).

A scientific sub-group of the NGMRG, known as the Goose Scientific Advisory Group ( GSAG) was established to advise NGMRG and hence Scottish Ministers on monitoring, research and analysis of information on Scottish goose populations and related scientific issues, reflecting the desire that policy decisions relating to goose management should stem from a sound scientific evidence base.

As part of its function agreed at the time of establishment, the NGMRG was required to conduct a multi-disciplinary review of the national policy framework every five years and to report its findings to Ministers. The first of these reviews in 2005 (Scottish Executive 2005), considered carefully the three core objectives guiding the policy framework and slightly eloborated the first two objectives to the current wording:

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

These modifications reflected: (i) the acceptance that goose policies needed to be integrated as far as possible with wider biodiversity policy; and (ii) that crofters deserved to be mentioned explicitly because of the goose issues they were experiencing.

The 2005 review stated that "policies for management of the interaction between geese and agriculture have worked" and concluded that "the approach to national and local partnership, the integration of the needs of conservation and agriculture, the evidence base of sound science and the growing recognition of the wider public benefits all contribute to the delivery of the objectives". It recognised that improvements could be made however, and two new recommendations were added to the 29 agreed previously (Scottish Executive 2000); the revised (31) recommendations were considered and adopted (Scottish Executive 2005).

The 2005 review was carried out by a sub-group of the NGMRG itself, with input from other Scottish government staff. The current report presents the results of the next required five-yearly review (2010), commisioned by the Scottish Government and undertaken by multi-disciplinary independent contractors with no previous representation on the NGMRG or GSAG.

1.2 Policy drivers and the need for review

The context in which the Scottish goose National Polict Framework sits has altered substantially since its inception in 2000, in terms of:

  • Goose numbers and distribution in Scotland

Most goose populations in Scotland have continued to increase since 2000 (Section 2.5 and Table 2.5, and a major re-distribution of wintering numbers has occurred for at least one species, the Icelandic Greylag Goose, with a high percentage of the population now wintering on Orkney (Section 2.5.4). In addition, numbers locally have increased in a number of Local Goose Management Schemes ( Chapter 4 and Appendix G). Importantly, at least one population (of Greenland White-fronted Goose) has continued to decline however, and more localised declines of other species have been noted in recent years. These changes mean that it is important for the current review to re-evaluate the relative priority that should be attached to the first two guiding objectives of current goose policy: meeting conservation obligations versus minimizing economic losses across all the goose populations hosted in Scotland.

  • Climate change

Climate change is becoming widely recognised as one of the major factors affecting species, habitats and ecosystems at the global scale. Defra has produced a number of guiding principles for reducing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity whilst taking into account our ( UK) international agreements and conservation obligations (Hopkins et al. 2007). At devolved level, Scottish Government passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act in 2009, which introduced legislation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, with an interim milestone of a reduction of 42% by the year 2020 1. The impacts of climate change on biodiversity have been manifested to date as changes in a whole range of biological and ecological parameters: phenology (timing of seasonal events); abundance of species; range of species; demography (including population size, survival and breeding success); habitat preference; and ecosystem function (Robinson et al. 2005; Hopkins et al. 2007). Evidence for impacts of climate change on geese is not as comprehensive as for some other taxonomic groups but there have been a number of studies that have documented changes in timing of migration (e.g. Bauer et al. 2008; Tombre et al. 2008; Jonker et al. 2010), body condition and survival (e.g. Kery et al. 2006) and breeding success (e.g. Boyd and Fox 2008). Because there is so much uncertainty in how goose populations may respond to climatic perturbations, future principles of Scottish goose management policy must be sufficiently flexible to allow adaptation through time if climate-related changes do occur.

  • Other potential threats to goose populations

Renewable energy has been identified as a key component of meeting the Climate Change (Scotland) Act interim targets, as set out in the Scottish Government's Climate Change Delivery Plan (Scottish Government 2009). Scotland has committed to generating up to 80% of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2020 2, which will be met largely through hydro and onshore wind energy. In addition, the Scottish Government has signed up to the delivery of significant wind and tidal energy by 2030, which will require substantial investment in the associated (often novel) technology and infrastructure. The ecological impacts associated with wind farm development have been reviewed (Langston and Pullan 2003) and the following have been identified as of high importance for geese (through evidence derived largely from onshore sites): disturbance leading to displacement or exclusion from suitable habitat; and collision mortality caused by direct bird strikes. Some specific reviewing of goose collision risk has also been undertaken (Patterson 2006; Fernley et al. 2006; Pendlebury 2006). More recently concerns have been raised for migratory geese with respect to proposed offshore wind farms (e.g. Svalbard Barnacle Geese and Pink-footed Geese for the site of the proposed Forth Array offshore windfarm; Fred Olsen Renewables 2010). Evidence to assess the likely impacts of such offshore developments on geese is very much in the early stages of collation, and further environmental impact assessments will be required before there is a sounder basis for the likely magnitude of threats to populations.

  • Changes in the drivers of agricultural policy

Precursors to the current goose management schemes originated under a Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) that was very different to the one now in place. In particular, whereas previous schemes had a backdrop of coupled payments, current schemes operate in the context of the decoupled Single Farm Payment ( SFP) and an increased policy emphasis (although not necessarily budget allocation) on agri-environmental and rural development measures, more recently expanded to include food and energy security in the face of climate change. Ongoing reform of the CAP is likely to lead to further changes, as may reductions in the overall CAP budget and the availability of domestic funding for co-financing purposes. Moreover, a desire for better joining-up between different policy areas and delivery functions is frequently stated, for example through formulation of the SG's Land Use Strategy ( LUS) and the SEARS initiative (Scotland's Environmental and Rural Services).

  • Other policy drivers

Scotland now has its own Biodiversity Strategy (Scottish Executive 2004; see Section 2.4.2) to support the statutory duty imposed on all Scottish public bodies by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. As a result, three goose species (Greater White-fronted, Barnacle and Bean Goose) feature on the Scottish Biodiversity List, an inventory of flora and fauna considered of principal importance for biodiversity conservation in Scotland. One goose population, that of the Greenland White-fronted Goose, is listed on the SNH Species Action Framework 3 as one of 32 species for which targeted management development should take place. Scotland has also become a partner to the Invasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain (Defra 2008), which has implications for non-native goose species, particularly Canada Goose (see Section 2.5.9).

A new Government Economic Strategy was introduced in 2007 (Scottish Government 2007), which established sustainable economic growth as the Government's "central Purpose, to which all else in government is directed and contributes". This Purpose is guided by five strategic objectives to make Scotland:

  • Wealthier and Fairer;
  • Smarter;
  • Healthier;
  • Safer and Stronger; and
  • Greener.

These objectives are underpinned by five strategic priorities relating to: learning, skills and well-being; a supportive business environment; infrastructure development and place; effective government; and equity. The related National Performance Framework sets out a range of longer-term aspirational and shorter-term targets to measure progress under the Economic Strategy, and aspects of agriculture and the natural environment have a role in contributing to many of these targets (Slee et al. 2009). Although not mentioned explicitly within such high-level documents, goose policy is consistent with their key principles, and indeed demonstrates some of the synergies and trade-offs between different components of growth (see Appendix I).

  • Economic climate

The seven current Local Goose Management Schemes constitute the most expensive element of the SNH Natural Care budget, with an expenditure of ca £1.5m in 2009/10. In an era of anticipated public sector austerity, it seems unlikely that discretionary expenditure on environmental policy interventions will escape closer scrutiny and budget cuts. Thus objective three of current goose policy (that of maximizing the value for money of public expenditure) will come under increasing scrutiny. The current five-year LGMSs expired in May 2010 and funding for the winter schemes has been rolled over for one winter only (that of 2010/11), pending the outcome of the current review.

In order to remain effective and compatible with other strands of policy, any future Scottish goose policy framework must adapt and be sufficiently flexible to meet these and likely future challenges, not all of which will necessarily be affordable alongside, nor compatible with, goose management: trade-offs may be required and political and current budgetary commitments to goose management may not necessarily be secure.

1.3 Remit of the current review

The overall purpose of the current review was to examine future strategies for goose management in Scotland in terms of their probable efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Current policy 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, whilst also ensuring compliance with legal obligations under the EU Birds Directive. The review also fulfils the commitment contained within the 2000 policy framework document (Scottish Executive 2000) to review national goose policy on a five-yearly basis.

The objectives of the review reflect four main areas of policy concern to the Scottish Government, and were as follows:

A Overall Effectiveness of Current National Policy Approach

A.1 An assessment of the national goose management policy framework to consider whether it is still fit for purpose, including an assessment of whether current policy is effective in delivering Scottish Government Strategic Objectives.

A.2 A stakeholder analysis, including an assessment of the remit and effectiveness of the National Goose Review Management Group, Local Goose Management Groups and the Goose Science Advisory Group in delivering SG Strategic Objectives.

A.3 An assessment of the effectiveness of current policy on management of goose populations in delivering national and international conservation obligations, including consideration of the extent to which goose population management should be organised to take account of the broader international context (e.g. through updated/improved flyway plans).

A.4 An assessment of the effectiveness of current policy and management regimes for habitats and species. That assessment should consider all goose schemes, with particular emphasis on those directly controlled by the NGMRG, and their effects on regional biodiversity priorities.

A.5 An assessment of the extent to which previous review recommendations contained within the Report of the National Goose Management Review Group: Review of the National Policy Framework for Goose Management in Scotland have been delivered.

B Cost effectiveness of local goose management schemes,

B.1 An assessment of whether current funding arrangements for local goose management schemes and management agreements and future projected management scenarios provide value for public money by reference to the benefits delivered locally and nationally.

B.2 An assessment of the absolute and relative cost-effectiveness of current local goose management schemes.

B.3 Whether Local Goose Management Scheme differences are justified by circumstances and whether there are lessons to be learned for future scheme design. This should include, for example, consideration of: the significance of collaborative management approaches to the success of management schemes; and of the optimal scale of collaboration (local or national); and whether there are other legal mechanisms which are not currently being used by Local Goose Management Scheme that could be introduced into one or more of the schemes.

B.4 A comparison of LGMSs and individual goose management agreements in Scotland with arrangements for goose management in EU and Scandinavia, including assessment of funding arrangements and legislative provision.

C Current and future funding

C.1 An assessment of options for utilising other available public funding mechanisms including the Scotland Rural Development Programme ( SRDP), Less Favoured Areas Scheme ( LFASS) and any other options which might arise, for example, as result of the CAP Health Check and including for each option, assessment of the likely impact on policy goals, public accountability and value for money.

D Legal and policy definitions of sustainable management of goose populations

D.1 A review of the status of goose populations occurring in Scotland, considering the information available from the most recent contracted Population Viability Analyses.

D.2 An assessment of areas where improvements to information and data gathering may be required to inform effective goose management policy and management in the future, including consideration of any need for bag data and proposing options for future population monitoring and research, including an assessment of value for money for each option.

D.3 A brief assessment of the impact that regulation has had on goose populations and their conservation status. This to include any recommendations for possible changes in the legislative status of the goose species as justified by their past, current and projected population sizes, or which is considered necessary to achieve current or likely future policy objectives. Specifically to consider whether there is evidence to retain or amend the sustainable use of wild geese, including the sale of carcasses.

1.4 Methods of the current review

Information for this review was obtained from a range of sources including:

  • Written and verbal evidence from the national stakeholders represented on the NGMRG and from the Goose Scientific Advisory group ( GSAG).

We gave each stakeholder organisation an opportunity to respond in writing to a questionnaire (which will be published on the Scottish Government website) and then to attend a follow-up meeting to discuss important issues in more detail.

  • Meetings and telephone interviews with relevant Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) and Scottish Government ( SG) officials at national and local levels, and a meeting with GSAG.
  • Meetings with the seven LGMGs and with a sample of participant and non-participant farmers/crofters in each LGMG location.

Each LGMG was offered the opportunity to make a written submission to the review team after the face-to-face meeting. Details of meetings held are provided in Appendix G. There was a limited budget available for these meetings, so that in some cases the sample of stakeholders (particularly farmers and crofters) outside of the Local Goose Management Groups that we were able to speak to directly was small. We sought to speak to as representative a sample of such stakeholders as possible, and we have no reason to believe that the views of these stakeholders presented in the report are notably biased, particularly as we also held discussions with the two major national organizations representing their views (the NFUS and SCF). Nevertheless, it is important to note that the views expressed are not necessarily derived from a full (and random) sample of that particular stakeholder population (which would be required to assess quantitatively the strength of feeling of that community to the various goose issues).

  • Interviews with farmers/crofters and local SNH/ SGRPID staff in three other locations with goose issues.
  • Minutes of the NGMRG and GSAG.
  • Information on the structure and performance of goose schemes and hunting systems in other European countries.

As far as possible, we made contact with resident experts within government agencies and relevant academic institutes, but note that the time allocated within the project for this part of the review was very limited (i.e. it precluded major translation of documents that were provided in languages other than English or comprehensive correspondence with all possible sources of information).

  • Research studies on goose ecology, management, economics and policy.

These included peer reviewed scientific papers, grey literature (non peer-reviewed reports) and direct correspondence with authors and relevant experts.


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