Islay will play host to a landmark international gathering of bird conservationists and government policy makers bidding to halt the rapid decline of one of Europeâ€™s iconic birds, the Greenland White-fronted Goose. Over fifty experts from throughout the world range of these geese are expected on Islay between 24th-26th February to develop an international action plan to help them survive. Organised by Scottish Natural Heritage, in partnership with the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study group, the three day conference and workshop will bring together experts from Greenland, Iceland, Ireland and the UK in response to growing concern that declines in both breeding productivity and population numbers now threaten the survival of these geese.
The world population peaked at 35,600 in 1999. Numbers have since tumbled by nearly a third to just 23,200 last year. In Scotland, SNH has listed the geese for conservation action under the Species Action Framework. SNH Area Officer Rae McKenzie said: 'It is fitting that we host this international gathering here on Islay now, whilst the geese are present. At this time of year visitors, delegates and conservationists alike can see at first hand how the geese are part of Islayâ€™s characteristic winter landscape and understand how their migration binds together far flung neighbour countries in a common effort to ensure their survival.' Conference Chairman, and SNH Head of Policy and Advice Professor Colin Galbraith, said: 'This conference... will bring all the knowledge, experience and expertise on Greenland White-fronted geese together here on Islay. Our objective is to distil these elements into a robust strategy to manage the risks and threats to the birdsâ€™ survival. Continue reading.....'When the Greenland White-front population fell to a low in the late 1970s this prompted real concern about their future. However, the long term ban on hunting on their wintering grounds redressed the balance and helped the population to recover through the 1990s. The current decline in numbers, gives rise to new, and serious concerns about the wider causes of breeding failures and population decline.. Our aim in this meeting is to assess the current situation, to identify the causes of the decline, and to agree on the actions needed in each country to address them.' Taking place at the Machrie Hotel, the conference programme will ensure delegates have time to see the island and hear the opinions of local people through an open meeting and a public slide show presentation on the migration story of the geese. The conference will also bring a welcome boost to Islayâ€™s visitor numbers in February as the delegates will naturally be travelling around Islay with scheduled visits to Ballygrant, Gruinart RSPB reserve, and Bowmore.
On Wednesday 25 February there will be a session open to the public on managing wintering sites for Greenland White-fronted Geese from 3pm to 5pm at Bowmore Village Hall. A slideshow open to the public will also be held in Bowmore Village Hall that evening from 7:30 â€“ 9:30. The Greenland White-fronted Goose breeds only in west Greenland, migrating in spring and autumn through south and west Iceland to wintering grounds in the north and west of Scotland, west Wales and Ireland. The world population fell to a low of 14,300 birds in the late 1970s. Protection from hunting in the UK and Ireland in the early 1980s resulted in the population increasing to 35,600 by 1999. Since this time numbers have declined to 23,200 in spring 2008.
The decline has been caused by the geese no longer producing enough young to replace those that die each year. However, the reason for this is unclear, but it may be related to climate or competition with other goose species in Greenland. In autumn 2006, Iceland stopped hunting. However it is not yet clear what impact this will have on the population of this long lived species. Scotland holds approximately 13,000 Greenland White-fronted Geese, with over half, approximately 7,000, wintering on Islay.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.