Jobseekers flocking to become Islay goose counters

Geese on Islay will be counted by ten people on zero-hours contracts. 'Good interpersonal skills' to deal with farmers are vital. Picture: Robert Perry
Geese on Islay will be counted by ten people on zero-hours contracts. 'Good interpersonal skills' to deal with farmers are vital. Picture: Robert Perry
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APPLICATIONS have been arriving from as far away as Austria from jobseekers desperate to count geese throughout the Hebridean winter.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has been inundated with applications after advertising five zero-hour contracts for new goose counters on Islay.

You don’t have to be an expert - it’s all about concentration

Andrew Kent

The island is one of the most important Scottish habitats for Greenland barnacle and Greenland white-fronted geese, who winter there in their thousands.

From November to April the successful job applicants will go out, in all weathers, counting geese for £9.37 an hour.

Andrew Kent, SNH operations officer for Islay, Jura and Colonsay, said: “It is an unusual job and it’s not one that comes up very often, but we do get a lot of interest in it because it’s quite unique.

“We get a lot of interest from outside Islay - we have had an email from a young lady from Austria who is interested in the position and we have applications from all over mainland Scotland.”

There have been applications from men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, including some with academic and ornithological backgrounds, but Mr Kent said: “You don’t have to be an expert in geese, it’s all about concentration.”

He added: “Ideally we look for a pool of ten counters, but this year we have lost five counters because some have moved off the island and some have moved to full-time employment.

“The counters cover the whole island - the island is separated into different routes and the counters work in pairs and spend a day counting their specific route and report the figures.”

He said the goose counter posts wouldn’t suit everybody and stressed: “You do have to go out in all weathers.”

Mr Kent added: “We are looking for someone who is able to use their own initiative, but can work as part of a team. They need good interpersonal skills as they will be dealing with the public and farmers. They need to be trustworthy, as they will be on farmers’ land.

“We also need someone who is flexible as we might have to move the count day.”

The fortnightly count information is used as one of the indicators to show how the geese are doing around the world.

Mr Kent continued: “Islay is one of the most important, if not the most important, areas for geese in Scotland. Two-thirds of the Scottish population of Greenland white-fronted geese and 78 per cent of the Scottish population of Greenland barnacle geese spend the winter on Islay.”

The average figure from the Islay winter counts is fed in to an international count. The 2014-15 count reported 37,758 Greenland barnacle geese on the island as well as 4,545 Greenland white-fronted geese.

Mr Kent said: “The geese start to arrive at the end of October and our first count is the first week of November.”

Islay’s habitats are vital for Greenland barnacle and Greenland white-fronted geese, which are protected under European law.

Farmers have received funding to help compensate them for economic losses since 1992 but a new sustainable goose management strategy, announced last winter, aims to reduce crop damage by 25-35 per cent.

The Islay Goose Management Group hopes to achieve this through reducing disturbance and managing feeding areas.