Orkney has been invaded by geese. The numbers are now so huge, and the damage so great, that permission has been granted for the wild birds to be shot – and eaten, reports the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby. In most situations it would be deemed unwise to tramp across a farmer’s fields in the wee small hours dressed in camouflage gear while carrying weapons, but Steve Rogers marches confidently across the frozen grass of Stromness, Orkney, frosted blades snapping and icy puddles splintering under his combat boots, as we approach a saltwater loch where we can hear the faint honking of resident geese. “I’ll get the hide up first,” whispers Steve into the darkness as he plonks a rolled-up grille intricately laced with reeds onto the ground and unwinds it.
“Then I’ll set some decoys so they’ll think their little friends are already feeding.” He smiles at the two men following him. “You boys get your guns ready.” In 2002, according to RSPB figures, there were just 300 breeding pairs of greylag geese in Orkney. Six years later that number had increased to a startling 10,000. Fast forward to today and the resident goose population – and no-one knows quite why – has soared to a staggering 64,000. That’s an awful lot of beaks and big webbed feet trampling grass and eating crops. “The damage they do in a short space of time is unbelievable,” says Steve, who runs Orkney Shooting Holidays, as he prepares to call the geese with his whistle in the first light of dawn. “What we’re doing isn’t really a sport any more, it’s a necessity.” And it’s also perfectly legal. Islanders have been allowed to control a set number of the birds since 2012, but the economic and environmental impact of goose grazing is now so serious for crofters that Scottish National Heritage (SNH), the body charged with protecting Scotland’s wildlife, gave its backing to a larger cull this summer, even recruiting volunteer shooters. It has since extended the cull until the beginning of next year. [full article]