Johnny Watson of Watson Seeds Ltd, talking about grass varieties
Ionad Colm Cille Ile (Columba Centre Islay) was the venue for an important debate on the future of Sustainable Geese Management across Scotland. Islay annually hosts 37,000 Barnacle and 13,000 Greenland White Fronted Geese (WFG), among others, in the winter months and these flocks hold a large percentage of the world’s population of both species. They are currently protected by Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive and compensation payments are made to Landmanagers by the government allowing them to feed on the extensive grasslands of northern Islay. When Barnacles and WFG were added to the Annex 1 list, numbers were in decline and the UK signed up to international agreements aimed at reversing that decline.
Barnacle Geese numbers have risen substantially in the intervening years but WFG continue to be at risk. A review of Geese Management policy by government in 2010 resulted in a planned reduction in compensation payments to landmanagers and farmers are now demanding a range of options for managing geese numbers to allow them to improve the use and agricultural productivity of their grass.
Around 50 participants from across Scotland attended the two day event, organised by NFUS on 10th and 11th March. On the first day site visits were made to a number of farms on the island where we were able to look at the extensive damage caused to sward by marauding geese. We were able to cross examine local farmers on the restrictions to their current level of activity caused by lack of grass at important periods of the agricultural year. We also met with SNH staff who are involved in data gathering to help with the options appraisal process on Islay. On day two, Ken Rundle of SRUC guided the attendees through a stream of interesting and challenging presentations, workshops and Q&A sessions. The three tensions in the debate, protecting important species of Geese, protecting the equally important livelihood of landmanagers and recognising government’s understandable intention to drive down costs were well aired but it remains to be seen which of these will snap first.
Scottish Land & Estates members, Willy Inglis of Islay Estates and David Gillies of Dunlossit Estates attended.