Western Isles: Crofters threat from hungry geese

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A WAY of life could end on the Western Isles because crofters can “no longer compete” with hungry geese, it was claimed yesterday.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) said the birds posed the “greatest threat” to the future of crofters on the islands by damaging crops and grazing.

SCF has raised an online petition urging the Scottish Government to do more to control geese numbers.

Crofters on the islands have previously called for culls of greylag geese. Ena MacDonald, an SCF representative, estimates there are 10,000 geese in the Uists.

“This is the greatest threat to crofting in the islands and could see the end of this way of life,” she said.

“The [Scottish] Government make a thing of saying they support crofting and want to help young crofters to stay here, but then they do nothing about the fact that the geese are forcing crofting out. We just cannot compete against the geese.”

Two years ago, calls from the National Farmers Union for some geese to be shot were supported by the islands’ MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan.

Last year Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) allowed the cull of 5,500 greylag geese as part of a pilot project on Orkney.

Western Isles MSP Dr Allan revealed in May that SNH is now also looking at a change in the regulations which would allow local hotels to put greylag geese on the menu.

Dr Allan has raised with SNH the need for measures to control the numbers of greylag geese from the point of view of crofting and the wider environment.

“I think it is open to question why the rules presently allow greylag geese – of which there are certainly plenty – to be shot, eaten, but not sold,” said Dr Allan.

“We need to look at every option that would encourage numbers to be kept under control given the difficulties which this species are causing for crofters through the islands.

“I made this point recently to Scottish Natural Heritage, who have now indicated that they are willing to look at how licensing mechanisms might be used to allow the sale of carcasses.

“I have had enquiries from one or two hotels in the islands who would be interested in putting goose on their menu, but the rules presently prevent this.

“No-one can seriously suggest that greylag geese are endangered in the Western Isles, unlike several other bird species which depend on crofting to create habitat for them.”