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Stratford-upon-Avon's GeesePeace Programme
Managing Canada Geese Conference  October 2007

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River Environment

Stratford-upon-Avon has about 100 adult swans and numerous smaller waterfowl living along the river. Their habitat and survival are threatened by the dramatic increase in the numbers of Canada Geese.

Canada Geese are not native to this country. They were introduced in St James’s Park in 1665 and have since spread throughout the UK. They pair for life and normally return to nest in the same area where they were born. They have an average life span of 15 to 20 years and two adult pairs can produce 108 surviving offspring in eight years. Without effective population control measures, Stratford’s current small flock of 100 Canada Geese will grow quickly into a flock of several thousand.

During the summer, visitors and residents feed the waterfowl on the river and this attracts hundreds of “visiting” geese. A survey in 2005 counted more than 700 Canada Geese flying in from other nesting sites, including Blenheim Park, Draycote Water and Earlswood Lakes.

This huge influx of Canada Geese has created serious problems in the town.

More than half a tonne of droppings are dumped on the river bank each day and, when the mess is cleaned up, most of it goes back into the river and adds to existing levels of pollution.

The geese are aggressive. They harass adults and small children for food and oust smaller birds from their natural habitat.

They do considerable damage to plants and reduce pleasant grassy areas to bare brown earth.

Angel Wing

An added complication, is that feeding Canada Geese on unnatural food causes a disease called “Angel Wing”. Waterfowl feed naturally on seeds, grasses and aquatic plants. If they eat a lot of white bread, which contains too much protein and too little vitamin E, they develop Angel Wing. This causes one or both wings to turn outwards and the bird is then unable to fly.


Introduction to the GeesePeace Management Programme

The GeesePeace programme in Stratford came about by chance during a City Sightseeing tour of the town by the Society's Chairman (at the time Prof Ian Heggie), in the company of a visiting American associate from the World Bank in Washington. The subject of the nuisance of Canada geese in the central area around the river was discussed, and the visitor happened to know of similar problems in the United States where a GeesePeace management programme had been developed to reduce the nuisance caused by Canada Geese in waterside communities.

As a result of this chance conversation, introductions were arranged and the innovators of this clever system were invited to Stratford to provide first-hand details of how the system worked. Following their visit, the Stratford on Avon District Council delegated the management of Canada Geese on the river to the Town Management Partnership (TMP) who, supported by the Stratford Society, have implemented the US GeesePeace programme in the town

The New Management Programme

Stratford on Avon District Council had largely stabilised the local nesting population by obtaining a licence to oil their eggs, which prevents most from hatching. But this had no impact on the hundreds of geese visiting from other nesting sites.

So theTMP implemented the GeesePeace programme which operates so successfully in the US. This programme manages Canada Geese in a humane and effective way without culling (shooting to kill). It includes three elements:

Egg Oiling

In collaboration with Warwickshire College’s Wildlife Management Program about 30 nests containing 157 eggs were identified in early 2005. An open umbrella was used to persuade any adult geese near the nests to move away. A float test was used to check which eggs had started to incubate and these were returned to the nest and left to hatch.

The remainder – about 134 – were oiled to prevent hatching. This reduced the potential number of adult geese by about 80. The programme continued during 2006.

Sheep Dogs

Wildlife quickly learn to associate potential danger with certain colour combinations and geese recognise black and yellow as a threat. Sheep dogs, which herd animals, but do not bite them, were dressed in yellow flotation jackets, put on leads and accompanied by handlers, were used to chase the geese into the river and then slowly herd them in a boat.

The geese quickly begin to recognise the yellow jacketed dogs as predators and fly back to their own nesting sites.

No geese were touched or harmed during the herding and the other waterfowl ignored the dogs and the boat. The initial herding was followed by a gentle maintenance regime of patrolling the river with dogs in boats -- 2-3 days per week for 1-2 hours at a time.

Feeding

Responsible riverside vendors now sell packets of floating wheat discs (which do no harm to any waterfowl) instead of stale white bread (which causes angel wing). The packets contain a leaflet explaining how white bread leads to Angel Wing and it also asks residents and visitors not to feed the Canada Geese.

Impact of the Programme

By the end of the summer in 2005, the numbers of Canada Geese on the river had dropped from 800 to around 120 -- mainly the local breeding population and the geese affected by Angel Wing. Only about 10—20 visiting geese were left. The programme continued throughout 2006 with the number of Canada Geese remaining at about 100.

The programme has been fully supported by the RSPCA who have monitored the herding and confirmed that there is no uncontrolled harassment of waterfowl on the river. The results are a significant reduction in goose droppings, pollution and noise plus better conditions for navigation and an improved habitat for the local wildfowl population which gives so much pleasure to both residents and visitors. In 2006 there was a noticeable increase in smaller waterfowl on the river.

For further information about GeesePeace, visit: www.geesepeace.org