Hungry Barnacle Geese Threaten Grazing Lands of Islay Farmers

One of the major tourist attractions of Islay are without a doubt the eight whisky distilleries but for many others the thousands of Barnacle Geese and other wildlife on the island are the most important reason for a visit. Once you've seen, and heard, the spectacle of the 50,000 wintering geese you'll never forget it. But there is a downside to this nature spectacle. The Geese eat grass and that is all they do, all winter, and when spring arrives the fields are sometimes turned into muddy patches, leaving little for sheep and cattle and by doing so they are threatening the livelyhoods of Islay's farmers. Today the Herald Scotland ran a story on the downside of the Islay Geese, below is a quote:

Barnacle Geese on the Isle of Islay

The barnacle goose and Greenland white-fronted goose are internationally protected species and for 30 years Islay has been at the forefront of conservation schemes aimed at increasing their numbers. The island is now the winter stopover for 70% of the world population of the species and last year the BBC's Autumnwatch programme visited Islay to feature the mass migration. But now the island has become a victim of its own success, with the birds arriving in such numbers that once-green fields have become muddy patches. Continue reading....

Gill Johnstone, Islay's representative in the farmers' union, NFU, said: "These geese arrive in the middle of October and leave in the middle of April and for six months they just eat grass – and grass is our livelihood as livestock farmers, in a disadvantaged island location where farming is very expensive." The sight, said Ms Johnstone, is "jaw-droppingly awful" and leaves farmers with significant and increasing bills for reseeding the pasture, which they require for their livestock.

As part of the conservation scheme, the farmers' losses were supposed to be offset by Government payments, but with annual conservation budgets cut as a result of the recession – down from just under £1 million to £654,000 – and with geese numbers continuing to rise, some of Islay's farmers are on the point of collapse.

Islay farmer Craig Archibald said: "The geese are at the level where there are just too many – either for their good or the good of the habitat. This is unsustainable conservation. It is time the politicians realised that if they need to cut the compensation bill, they will need to cut the amount of geese too. Without farmers on Islay growing grass, these geese won't have a habitat to come to. There has to be a balance."

Tag: farmers geese conservation