Wetenschap - 12 mei 2011

'Something has to be done'

A remarkable coalition of bird conservationists, hunters and land managers (the Geese 8) is going to tackle the summer geese population. Half the birds must go. Geese specialist Dick Melman at Alterra thinks this might work.

'It is quite an achievement to have hunters and bird conservationists working together in this venture. You need to be able to explain why you are doing this. It is a particularly big step for the bird conservation society Vogelbescherming. The agreement shows a healthy ecological awareness.
We have been carrying out research on regulating summer geese populations for about two years now at Alterra. The crucial element in this research is the development of a population model. At present, there are around 200,000 grey geese in the Netherlands in the summer, including 35,000 breeding pairs. So many geese do not have a mate - young birds, adolescents and single birds. According to our model, if we do not do anything numbers will continue to increase for another thirty or forty years until all the grass has been used up. The population could easily reach fifty to a hundred times what it is now. So something has to be done.
The Geese 8 is opting for population control. The aim is to get the population back down to 100,000 grey geese in five years time, half what it is now. That means capturing or shooting adult birds. How exactly is not yet clear. That is a highly sensitive issue, for example because of animal welfare. I am personally convinced that hunting will do it, but all depends on society and what instruments it finds acceptable. 
One interesting possible solution is the suggestion to promote goose as a regional product: goose meat harvested from nature as an ecosystem service. This is a perfect opportunity to show that we are part of an ecosystem, with nature providing us with our food. But of course the question is whether this is legal, whether population control is compatible with what we have agreed internationally.
All in all I am optimistic.  I see a nice task for Alterra: monitoring whether it works and whether we are continuing to meet our nature objectives. Scientific supporting evidence is required for the control of numbers to show whether or not it is working. The Ministry of Agriculture stopped our research at the start of the year because of the cutbacks. The population model is now two thirds complete and if they are smart they will let us finish it.'