Science - March 23, 2017

‘Geese policy is not implemented consistently’

Roelof Kleis

The Dutch policy on wild geese is a failure. Keeping geese to designated areas does not work: geese decide for themselves where they want to forage. This conclusion has been drawn in an article in the journal Ambio by researchers from NIOO-KNAW, Sovon and elsewhere. According to Dick Melman of Wageningen Environmental Research, however, to call it a failure is too simplistic.

The hypothesis was that by scaring them off you could teach geese to use designated areas. Are geese unteachable?
‘It was thought that you could steer geese by scaring them off ‘no go’ areas. But then you do have to be consistent in where and when you scare them. And that was lacking. Farmers and hunters do not scare them off the same fields consistently, but do it here today and there tomorrow. What is more, you have to tailor your approach. Species of geese are all different.’

Were the designated areas well chosen?
‘The choice of areas is unfortunate. There are too many straggly borders and even enclaves within the designated foraging areas where the geese were not allowed. And the areas vary from year to year and do not border each other. In that case it stops working. We have a lot to learn about this. We didn’t go about it the right way.’

So it is possible, but only if we do it better?
‘Yes, that’s what I think. The approach has now been delegated to the provinces. I think there are three options for tackling the problem. One: do what we are already doing but then scaring the geese off damage-prone plots more effectively. Two: create good, large and linked designated foraging areas for them. Three: cull geese more effectively so you can maintain a decent population while keeping damage within acceptable limits.’ 

Hunting to scare geese: does that work at all?
‘At present volunteer hunters shoot around the edges of the designated areas, because that’s where their chances are greatest. But that sends a confusing signal to the geese, that they are not allowed to be there. Perhaps you should just employ hunters and task them with only hunting well outside the designated areas, in places where geese cause the most damage.’