Confrontation On Campus: Roehampton University Combats Canada Goose Invaders:

“Are you animated by a deep-seated hatred of Canadian geese?”. If yes, declared “Time Out London” on April 10th, there was an ideal job available. It would be for just two days (14th-15th April), 9am-5pm, rate of pay £6.31p per hour, dress code “casual”. What were the duties?  “Bidding a fond farewell to the huge numbers of Canada Geese currently attending the beautiful Roehampton Campus”. How would this be achieved? By chasing after the geese with a klaxon and “encouraging them to fly away”. What qualifications were required? As the London Evening Standard also pointed out on April 11th, candidates had to be “physically able to follow the geese at a fast pace and not be afraid of them”. Those who had “little experience in ornithology” would be provided with “full training”.

Roehampton, located in West London, is not the only British University to have been “besieged” by these birds. In May 2013, the “Coventry Telegraph” reported that University of Warwick staff had “taken steps to stabilise the Canada Geese population on campus” after a video was uploaded on YouTube showing an “angry goose” attacking two students. Estimates as to how many of this species are now present in the UK have varied from 55,000 (“The Wetland Bird Survey”) to 96,000 (“Natural England”) and to 120,000 (Dr. John Allan of the “Central Science Laboratory”). The “Guardian” has quoted the “British Trust for Ornithology” as anticipating that Canada Goose numbers in Britain would increase beyond 200,000 during this decade – compared to “just 3,600 in 1953”. The bird was (the Daily Mail has noted) first imported into the country from the North American colonies in 1665 by King Charles II to “act as ornaments in his London garden, otherwise known as St. James’s Park”.

So what (if anything) should be done to reduce the numbers? The “Canada Goose Conservation Society (CGCS)”, based in Newport, South Wales, is fiercely opposed to the “culling” of the species – a “cruel system”, it states, which is “condoned by the “so-called” Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).” According to the CGCS, Canada Geese “are devoted parents who never leave their goslings unguarded”. Moreover, they “aren’t racist: they happily mix and interbreed with other types of geese”. The CGCS advocates “Humane Control Measures” such as putting up signs advising the public not to feed them bread. These birds apparently like easy access to and from water areas, so constructing fences of at least 18 inches high and growing “long, tough fescue grass” around lakes and large ponds acts as a deterrent.

Some media commentators, however, are rather less enthusiastic about Canada Geese. In the opinion of the Daily Mail’s Rory Knight Bruce, “While they may look majestic soaring through the air, they are proving a terrible nuisance on the ground – fouling public places and ravaging crops”. His colleague, Robert Hardman, described them as “The most loathsome birds in Britain”, mainly because “the mess they produce every 40 seconds” is a “public hazard” due to their tendency to “colonize areas close to humans”.

Both journalists referred to the cookery book author Prue Leith, who suggested that the birds “should be served in restaurants and that they are best grilled with teriyaki sauce”. Her revelation that she had “gathered a few newly-laid Canada Geese eggs from near her garden pond” and then mixed them with some lentil salad and coleslaw potentially contravened the “Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981”.

As explained in “national guidelines” compiled by Dr Allan on behalf of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), this law “makes it an offence to capture, kill or injure Canada Geese, to damage their nests or eggs or disturb them on a breeding site. Any control technique which involves breaking the protected status of the Geese requires a licence from the appropriate Government authority”. They can, however, be legally shot during the “open season” (1st September to 31st January) by “persons acting with the legal authority of the landowners”.

Dr Allan’s document also assessed a range of permitted techniques for “scaring away” Canada Geese. These included: “Acoustic” (gas cannons, recorded bird calls, artificial sound generators). “Visual” (scarecrows, windmills, rotating mirrors, flags, kites and balloons, often painted with large eyes or made in the shape of predatory birds: The problem with these is that the Geese “are accustomed to man-made items”). “Barrier planting” and the fences preferred by the CGCS.  “Chemical repellents” – though no suitable product has yet been approved for use in the UK. “Pricking, boiling or oiling the eggs”: This is “the most commonly utilised licensed control method and is generally regarded as acceptable by the public”.

Meanwhile, back at Roehampton University on the afternoon of Tuesday 15th April: Just one solitary student could be spotted addressing the few remaining Canada Geese with her loudspeaker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Society | Posted on April 21st, 2014 by Colin D Gordon

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