FEW of God’s creatures can be as heavily protected as the barnacle goose in southern Scotland. All 13,700 of those which breed on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard migrate each year to the Solway coast salt-marshes. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest qualifying for designation under the Ramsar, Berne and Bonn conventions.
Caerlaverock, the geese’s sole winter home, is a Special Protection Area and a Unesco biosphere reserve. Scottish Natural Heritage has a National Nature Reserve there, within which the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust runs a showpiece refuge which attracts 16,000 people a year. The barnacles are “the jewel in the crown.” says John Doherty, the refuge manager.
There’s more. The geese are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and by the EC Birds Directive. And Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council and the tourist board use them in their logos.
With this level of protection you might
think the geese were safe. Wrong. Enter Danny Quinn whose family has farmed at Powhillon on the northern edge of the reserve for over 60 years. To Quinn the geese are vermin.
Last March, after fruitless attempts to scare the geese off and protect his crops, Quinn shot a brace of barnacles.
In December he made legal history when Dumfries Sheriff Court agreed that shooting some of Britain’s most protected birds was a valid defence of Quinn’s crops. He now has a licence to kill them and the ramifications are enormous.
“What this means is that there is no longer such a thing as a protected bird in Britain,” says Doherty. “We are dismayed and astonished.”
The trust, which is considering an appeal, is gobsmacked. Sir Hector Monro, Scottish Office Agriculture Minister (and Quinn’s MP) granted the licence.
Yet, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – also headed
by Monro – are negotiating with Scottish farmers over the possible introduction of a compensation scheme. Quinn says the trust stood to make thousands of pounds a year.
A compensation scheme exists in Islay, where Greenland-bred barnacles winter. Solway farmers say they lose £15,000 (RM61,500) a year each from the birds, and the farmer’s union have been campaigning for compensation for years.
Meanwhile, Quinn has more than geese to worry about, waging a long and bitter war against the trust over the state of his 112ha holding, bought by the trust in 1975.
He claims that the trust is trying to drive him out. John Doherty categorically denies this and says Quinn has rejected several proposals for a solution.
“There is on the table a negotiable programme for investment in the farm involving tens of thousands of pounds.” he says. Nevertheless, Quinn’s sheds have fallen down.
His house has a gaping crack in it. The trust’s sea wall has collapsed and half his land is flooded. “I will fight on.” He says, “even if it kills me.”
Elsewhere, SNH are working on a solution to the goose-versus-farmer saga. They have been paying the farmers to introduce grazing in an attempt to improve the holding capacity of the sanctuary.
They have issued farmers with gas guns and barriers and have offered Quinn an agreement to allow his farm to be included in the sanctuary. Quinn has rejected this.
Now other Solway farmers have said they, too, will apply for shooting licences as a last resort to shoot the barnacle geese.
One of them, Jim Brown says: “We are holding talks with Scottish Natural Heritage. They say they are seriously looking at the crop damage. They are coming back in March. We will wait until then. If there is no compensation scheme on the way, then we, too, will apply for licences.” – The Guardian