Thousands of geese could be culled to save Hebridean way of life
A CULL of thousands of greylag geese is being mooted in an effort to save the livelihoods of Hebridean crofters and a rare European habitat.
Islanders in Uist and Benbecula claim that an explosion in the population of the goose – to more than 6,000 – is damaging their crops and threatening rare wildlife.
They are seeking an extension to the shooting season, on top of the introduction of other measures, to reduce the numbers drastically to a sustainable level of about 2,000.
Stòras Uibhist, the country’s largest community landowner with 93,000 acres and more than 1,000 crofter tenants, is urging the Scottish Government to recognise the problem and assist in a plan to cull the species.
Chief executive Hew Francis said: “We have to reduce the numbers to a sustainable level, so they don’t impact on the biodiversity of the land – particularly the rare machair – and the traditional crofting which takes place here.
“The number of greylag geese has exploded in the last ten to 15 years. We now have very large flocks resident on the island, mainly on the west where most of the agriculture is.
“The geese eat the grass, particularly in the spring, leaving no grazing for any of the livestock. They also attack the crops that come up.
“They can decimate large areas of crops. We have had in place for a number of years a goose management programme to protect the crops, but that has not stopped the numbers from growing. Thousands more are coming into the system.”
The management programme included scaring methods using rockets, bangers and kites, which are used randomly to avoid the birds becoming conditioned to their usage.
They also fail to reduce the rising population of the greylag geese.
Stòras Uibhist is holding a meeting on Monday to discuss the growing problem of the birds on the islands.
The annual goose count has shown that numbers are continuing to increase, with more than 6,000 now reported to be in the Uists.
However, this is said to be a conservative estimate.
The species can only be legally shot outwith the breeding season, between September and January, but Mr Francis said only a handful of crofters hold the relevant firearms licence to carry this out.
As a result, he claimed, the numbers were not being reduced or even maintained at current levels.
He said Stòras Uibhist’s Uist Goose Management Group, in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage, was hoping to apply to the Scottish Government for an extension to the shooting season.
The organisation also proposes covering the newly-laid geese eggs with odourless paraffin oil which cannot be detected by the birds, but would prevent new chicks from hatching.
The machair supports a wide range of wildlife, from corn buntings and corncrakes to insects.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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