First, congratulations on hanging in there as Secretary of State for the Environment. More power to your elbow - and may you hatch many more campaigns like the one just launched against Canada geese.

In recommending nine ways of suppressing Canadas, your Ministry is bound to come under fire from loony ecologists - Carla Lane and Paul McCartney spring to mind - determined to preserve every goose in sight. Do not worry. You have at least taken a step in the right direction.

Not only are the birds - as you yourself point out - among the most powerful defecators in the avian kingdom, each producing a hundredweight of you-know-what every week. They are also formidable grazers: their razor beaks mow grass at a fearful rate, and it is reckoned that six of them eat as much as a single sheep. To have your land infested with a flock of 150 Canadas is thus the equivalent of entertaining two dozen sheep, for no return.

No wonder farmers loathe them. I know one man who organises shoots every winter, but has problems with his mother, whose windows look out over the ground on which the geese congregate. To prevent her intervening, he arranges for someone to trap her on the telephone just as manoeuvres are starting. He, for one, will welcome your initiative.

I feel, however, that you could be more robust in your recommendations. Why not urge people to EAT Canadas? I know that the legs of a mature gander are tough as old boots; but the breast-meat, filleted, diced, marinated and cooked in red wine, makes a stew rich enough for a king.

Canadas should be only the first goose species which you tackle. Others are equally out of control. If you want to see what I mean, go to Islay. Do not pass Go. Do not collect pounds 200. Proceed directly to Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, pausing only to don a pair of wellington boots, for the fields - you guessed it - are knee-deep in grey-green manure.

In the old days, local landowners would count the geese, decide how many to cull, and shoot the surplus in winter. Now, with shooting banned, the population of Barnacle geese alone has rocketed from 3,000 in the Sixties to 27,000. A full-time goose-counter is employed by Scottish Natural Heritage, and farmers receive annual compensation of pounds 9 for every bird grazing their land. The annual cost to us taxpayers approaches pounds 300,000. If this is not conservation gone crazy, I do not know what is.

You may recall the shilling-a-tail scheme run by the Ministry of Agriculture during the Sixties in an attempt to eliminate grey squirrels. Why not offer 50p a pair for goose wings? I am sure the response would be phenomenal.

If farm animals were allowed to run riot, as geese are, there would be a public outcry. Positive management is the answer, Mr Gummer, for wildlife as much as for tame.

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