Western Isles crofters face ruin by invasion of voracious wild geese
They are a wonderful sight of wild beauty - hundreds of geese descending on the coast of the Uists in the Western Isles, producing an eerie squall of sound across the landscape.
Yet to the islands' crofters struggling to feed stock after the winter, the geese spell disaster, as farmers watch their grasslands grazed back, their hay and oats flattened and the seed for next year providing a feast for the thriving birds.
Crofters on North and South Uist are warning they face ruin unless something is done to reduce the resident flocks of greylag geese, which, according Scottish Natural Heritage, have doubled or tripled in size in 20 years.
"I was out this morning and the grass was struggling to come through," said Ena McNeill, 59, a crofter on North Uist. "We're still feeding the stock, hoping there will be grass soon. But there are hundreds of geese grazing there today. When I was a child you had to go to one of the offshore islands to find one. Now you can shoot them from the bedroom window. Someone told me they were even eating the chicken food, they are so tame. I don't know how we'll survive."
The problem does not end with early grazing, she said."September comes and the best crop that you could wish for has been dinner, bed and breakfast to the geese, while you have been busy silaging the other half of your crop. You can say goodbye to next year's seed," she said, adding that crofters are having to use mainland seed , which does not grow well in the islands' soil.
Neil MacIntyre, 47, a crofter on South Uist, said he may have to abandon keeping stock if the geese carry on eating feed so that he is forced to import oats and hay.
The problem springs from the survival in the Western Isles of Britain's only resident flocks of greylag geese, which live on the islands all year. The strips of "machair", fertile, sandy plains upon which crofters and rare wildlife rely, are the precisely where the 3,000 native geese like to graze.
Andrew Douse, ornithologist and species manager for Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "We understand the difficulties. Crofting is a parlous business at the best of times. The population of greylags has increased and they are there all year around.
But we do provide loans for scaring devices and there are closed season licences available to shoot these birds. If the crofters abandoned mixed farming and just went over to sheep and collecting subsidies, it would have a very damaging effect on the biodiversity of the landscape."
The solutions are not coming quickly enough for the Uist crofters, however. "We do not want these flocks wiped out, just controlled to manageable numbers," Ms McNeill said. "My son has been waiting three weeks for a shooting licence and still hasn't received one. That is three weeks in which the geese have been able to do what they like."
- 1 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 2 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...
Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...
£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...