Geese (Economic Impacts)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2013.

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Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to minimise the negative economic impact on farmers and crofters of the presence of large numbers of geese in the Outer and Inner Hebrides and the northern isles. (S4O-02185)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

As the member may have seen on the recent television programme, “Hebrides: Islands on the Edge”, geese can be a wonderful spectacle. However, I recognise the impact that geese have on farmers and crofters in certain areas of Scotland. I have met farming representatives from Islay to discuss their concerns, and a Scottish Natural Heritage project officer is currently undertaking research on Islay to evaluate options for management of the impact of geese on the island.

We are working with stakeholders including farmers, crofters and their representatives, as well as environmental non-governmental organisations, to achieve a long-term balance between our conservation obligations, the needs of sustainable agriculture and value for money.

The Scottish Government funds a number of goose-management schemes and other initiatives in the affected areas. We have committed more than £1 million in 2013-14 to support management of geese, and we are developing a number of initiatives, including trialling adaptive management techniques.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

I agree with the minister about the wonderful television programme that he mentioned. I am sure that he shares my concern that it was not broadcast to a wider audience across the whole United Kingdom.

The minister will be aware that farmers are reporting problems in use of steel shotgun pellets, which often wound rather than kill geese, and otherwise merely scare geese from one farm to another, and that they would, therefore, prefer to use conventional lead pellets. Can the minister suggest any solutions to that problem?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I accept that we need to avoid merely scaring geese from one farm to another or, worse, shooting and merely wounding birds.

When problems with steel shotgun pellets were first reported, Scottish Natural Heritage organised a workshop with local farmers to explore the problem. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation was commissioned to provide a report on the practicalities of non-lead alternatives. The report concluded that, although it is reasonable to use steel shot at shorter distances, longer ranges require that steel shot be used with specialised shotguns, or that more expensive alternatives such as tungsten, bismuth, HEVI-Shot or lead shot loads be used when that is legally permitted, as would be the case on non-wetland sites. SNH subsequently commissioned BASC to organise a practical workshop with local farmers and shooters who are participating in the pilots, to explore their capacity to use alternatives to lead and steel shot. That will be undertaken before the next pilot starts.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I have recently chaired meetings in Shetland with the agriculture industry, Shetland Islands Council and environmental bodies including RSPB Scotland, all of which agree that the population of geese in Shetland is growing too rapidly and needs to be addressed. Will the minister ensure that the agencies for which he is responsible bring their energy to bear on the issue so that we can find a proper way of reducing the goose population to a level that does not have the kind of economic effect that he mentioned in his earlier answer?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am certainly happy to engage my officials in considering the particular problems that exist in Shetland, and to engage with Tavish Scott on them.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The minister will be aware of the extent of the concern in the crofting counties. Will he pledge to meet the Scottish Crofting Foundation and the NFU Scotland on the subject?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I have already met the NFUS, but I am happy to do so again, and to meet the Scottish Crofting Federation, if that will be of assistance to its members.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The minister will be aware of the meeting that I organised between his predecessor and the Orkney branch of the NFUS in spring last year, as a result of which an adaptive management scheme was put in place, albeit that it was a little later than was hoped for.

At that time, the possibility of using decoys was discussed, as well as the potential to sell the meat of at least some of the geese that are killed. Can the minister update Parliament on either or both of those aspects?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Jamie McGrigor will be aware that we have put in place measures in Orkney to tackle the greylag goose population and that we have authorised the lethal control of 5,000 greylag geese in the Orkney islands. We are engaged in discussions on how we will deal with the carcases. I am aware that there is great sensitivity about the perceived waste of the carcases that are left after such control measures have been taken.