New Research Into Islay's Greylag Geese

Tom Mason and Jeremy Cusack, post-doctoral researchers from Stirling University's Conservation Science Department, were on Islay last week to begin their study into Greylag geese.

The pilot study would like to see seven Greylag geese tagged with GPS devices that relay the bird's position in near-real-time to an 'Animal Tracker' app developed by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Germany. 

Stirling University has a strong legacy of conservation (and, actually, archeological) research on Islay, and collaborates with Scottish Natural Heritage [SNH], through sharing data and looking at trends.

Tom provides some more context, "With the Barnacle geese, the numbers have exploded, from 20,000 twenty years ago to 45-50,000 today.  These are the focus of the SNH Islay Goose Management scheme.

There is also now the potential for conflict with the Greylag population,  so the plan is to tag a few to find out where they are coming from and going to.  Ultimately, says Tom: "Using information about goose ecology, we'll try and identify ways that we can improve how they get managed." 

He continues, "We would like to help manage any conflict between different stakeholders, farmers, conservationists, and Government organisations."

With the Barnacle geese that are only here in the winter, the concern is largely damage to grassland. With the mostly resident Greylags the threat is to grain that goes into our 100% Islay whiskies.

Tom says: "We need to make observations over a number of years to find out what their home ranges and habitat types are. Do they even stay on Islay? Do they move to different islands? We don't really know."

Although last week's attempt at capturing a sample of the geese to provide data for the research did not yield results, Jeremy, who came to Stirling from Oxford University, takes the long view. "We're also working with geese in Orkney and  Denmark, looking at how each country manages the situation. Socio-economics are very important factors, not just goose ecology.  We're going to try and put all the pieces together to see how the whole thing works.

"But, yeah, we'll get there in the end. Hopefully!"  

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