Highland Diary

Islay Geese

A photography trip to the Isle of Islay at this time of year has become almost an annual pilgrimage. With a good weather forecast for the week, we booked the ferry. Last year we were unable to get over until the second week in April by which time many of the geese were¬† leaving. We daily observed skeins heading north and the flocks feeding in the fields were greatly reduced by the end of our week. This year at the end of February there were plenty of geese to be seen. Over the years the geese have become much more wary and difficult to photograph from a vehicle. Undoubtedly this is as a result of the Islay Goose Management Scheme cull, an attempt to reduce their grazing damage to farmland. To a casual observer some areas that once regularly held scattered parties of feeding barnacles have none whilst in others there are densely packed feeding flocks of a thousand or more strong. These flighty safety in numbers flocks probably have an even greater impact locally on the grazing than the scattered flocks once did. The aim of the management scheme over a ten year period is to cull 25% – 30% of the forty thousand plus barnacle geese wintering on the island. By the end of the 20017-18 the cull stood at over eight thousand geese with a further 2800 expected to be killed in 2018-19. A total figure that in itself amounts to 10% of the world population of Greenland Barnacle Geese. The validity of killing that proportion of the population of any species by any nation should be challenged. Even worse when one considers that it is a policy sanctioned by the Scottish Government. Now only on the RSPB’s Gruinart Reserve do the geese spread out and feed close to the public roads with any confidence.