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Background Info

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) is the only member-led organisation dedicated to promoting crofting and is the largest association of small-scale food producers in the UK. Its mission is to safeguard and promote the rights, livelihoods and culture of crofters and their communities.

The National Goose Management Review Group (NGMRG) was set up in May 2000 to implement the national policy framework and to advise Scottish Ministers on goose management in Scotland. Since then the wild goose populations have increased unchecked and are out of control.

Ask any crofter in the inner or outer Hebrides what the bane of their lives is and they will say “geese”. Many believe geese to be the biggest single threat to the continuation of island crofting.

Crofters’ complaints about the goose problem are not new but it is now reaching devastating proportions in Tiree, Islay and the Uists, and is fast becoming the same in the rest of the Western Isles, the Northern Isles and parts of the mainland – a significant proportion of the crofting counties.

The 1986 report of an independent evaluation of the Integrated Development Programme (IDP) said that, as a breeding bird the Greylag goose could be considered rare in British terms; it was estimated that there were around 700-800 breeding pairs in the UK, of which around 150 were breeding in the Outer Hebrides. At that time, North Uist crofters were seeking to control the spread of Greylag geese, an annual visitor, which they claimed were causing them substantial agricultural losses. Now the Uists are year-round home to more than 10,000 greylag geese and that population is growing. This is the same in Orkney; other areas dont have accurate numbers.

Yet despite these vast numbers, geese are still protected by law. Crofters are told they can shoot marauding deer on their crofts but not geese, except at certain times of the year and at the will of the landlord who has the shooting rights and dictates whether crofters can shoot or not. Crofters can't even sell wild goose meat. With the robust annual counts and the cooperation of all parties on the islands in supplying shot figures, there seems no reason to not change the law so that geese can be controlled year-round, decoys can be used in August and wild goose meat and products can be sold.

Crofting agriculture is very important to the Uists, much of which is designated ‘High Nature Value’. But crops of cereal and grass are being ruined by the grazing and fouling of geese.

SNH have an ‘Adaptive Management’ 4 year trial that controls goose numbers in the Uists but this alone will not reduce the population to manageable levels as it needs to work alongside a crop protection scheme. But cuts are likely to halt the good work. There was a review of existing goose management schemes in 2011 (most of the effected areas have no management schemes) which concluded that against the background of pressure on public expenditure, there would have to be substantive savings in the costs of goose management in Scotland. The report also concluded that control schemes for greylag geese were a lower priority than those for other species.

It is clear that if the Scottish Government do not provide more funding for effective initiatives it will not be possible to keep the flood at bay. We cannot afford to lose a year as we are not even keeping the population stable now. If we lose a year of the joint crop protection and adaptive management work, greylags will definitely threaten the growing of corn and, therefore, the raising of cattle on the Uists. And the picture is similar elsewhere in the crofting counties.

Biodiversity is of course important, but the key to this is to safeguard the livelihoods of the people who live in the crofting areas; without them working the land the protection of biodiversity cannot happen. We need to continue protecting crops and we need to change the law regarding geese control and meat sales. There is a catastrophe unfolding and officialdom appears to have failed to recognise this and to take action. Crofters and their families are now the endangered ones.