Science - October 8, 2009

Geese on a learning curve

Setting up special geese reception areas seems like a brilliantly simple idea. The birds can spend time there undisturbed and forage for food without being troubled by farmers.

The geese are chased away from areas that are not designated reception areas. The report Evaluation of the reception area policy over 2005-2008 for wintering geese and widgeons shows that the birds often stay outside the reception areas. Dick Melman of Alterra:  'The choice of what is and isn't a reception area could be improved.'
'Geese have always wintered in the Netherlands but they are now causing problems because of the increase in numbers. On the one hand we wish to protect them as a species, on the other hand the birds cause damage to farmland. Reception areas where they have sufficient food and will not be disturbed are a possible solution. Any geese outside those areas are driven away. The designated reception areas cover a total of 80 thousand hectares: 65 thousand hectares is farmland where the farmers are compensated for the damage and the rest is made up of nature reserves.
'An analysis of this reception area policy showed that about 40 percent of the geese stay in areas outside the reception areas, with damage to farmland as a consequence. This percentage has not changed over the years. Geese are not learning, so it would seem, but that conclusion is open to discussion. The fact is, there have been changes to the reception area policy. For instance, there have been continual modifications to the reception area boundaries and there have been differences between areas in the amount of effort put into driving the geese away. Such changes do not help the geese in their learning process.'
'I think there should be more consistency in the implementation of the reception area policy. There could be improvements made in the reception area boundaries. For example, you need to avoid the situation where a narrow area of farmland juts out into a reception area or where farmland is surrounded by reception areas. Driving geese away from areas outside the reception area is the key to the success of this approach. That is why it is crucial for us to find ways of driving the geese away more effectively and more consistently to ensure they make better use of the reception areas.'

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