Wild geese are arriving in larger numbers for an extended winter
season on valuable livestock grazing ground on the Cumbrian shores
of the Solway Estuary.
David Bowe in a field which has been
severely grazed by geese.
The birds which once came in their hundreds now number thousands,
eating off the first flush of spring grass for cattle and grazing
ewes and their lambs as well as scavenging fields being conserved
The predominantly Greylag and Pinkfoot geese arrive on the south
shore marshland in late September but as well as greatly increased
numbers the birds are feeding on farmland neighbouring the marsh
nearly into May when farmers are depending on the grass to grow.
Livestock farmer David Bowe is so exasperated with the invasion
that he has applied for an out-of-season licence to shoot the birds
but he fears an individual approach will only result in moving
the problem elsewhere – if it is granted in time.
“The geese have always been coming here but whereas they
used to number up to a couple of hundred they are now up to several
thousand grazing one field,” said Mr Bowe who, with his brother
Norman, has farmed at Calvo for 35 years.
“The open season when we are able to shoot the birds under
a game licence runs from September 1 to January 31 and is extended
on the foreshore to February 20 with the exception of Sundays.
“But it’s after that when the geese start grazing
on the fields – just when the grass is starting to grow.
They also seem to return in ever bigger numbers, particularly when
the weather turns bad.”
There are also concerns at the level of fouling with droppings
from the birds. A Rural Development Service advice note warns that
the birds’ inefficient digestive system means they may produce
droppings at the rate of one every six minutes.
The droppings contain bacteria that may be harmful, if swallowed,
and may cause increased nutrient loadings is they are passed into
water, it warns.
The Bowe family farms 300 acres in the area, among more than 3,000
acres run by numerous farmers on and near to the Skinburness, Calvo
and Newton Arlosh marshes between Skinburness and Kirkbride.
Mr Bowe depends on the early grass in the fields for his flock
of 200 Mule ewes and their Texel cross lambs as well as for his
herd of 100 Friesian milkers plus 180 followers and beef cattle
which includes pedigree Blonde d’Aquitaines.
“We lambed the ewes from February 26 in a couple of fields
and around the beginning of March we intended to move them to another
field to give them a fresh bite of grass but the geese had eaten
most of it. It was after that I started trying to do something
about the problem.
“We spread slurry on a field which is to be kept for silage
and within six weeks when the grass started growing the geese were
on it. We have to spread the slurry but we can’t spread it
on the early grazing ground.”
Mr Bowe has been further frustrated with his attempts to get the
out-of-season licence from Natural England and is not surprised
that one of his neighbours gave up on the application which consists
of a 10-page form and subsequently requires a count of the birds
shot or scared away.
He made his first enquiries on March 13 and after two lots of
correspondence from the Wildlife Licensing Unit at Westbury on
Trym, near Bristol went astray he received a letter on March 22
saying that the unit aimed to process the application in ’15
or 30 days’. He received a visit on March 30 from one of
“There is quite a number of farmers affected by this. By
tackling it individually we’re not solving the problem. No
one knows why the geese are staying longer or why there are more
“If the powers that be want to maintain the numbers then
something should be done to help us cope with the situation. If
not, then organised steps should be taken to keep them under control.”
No one at Natural England was available to make an official comment.
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