Laser beams and birds of prey: battling the goose migration that ruffles a few feathers

File picture of barnacle geese in flight / Credit: iStock

The annual migration of barnacle geese is underway as an estimated 130,000 leave their winter feeding grounds in the Netherlands and fly over southern and eastern Finland to their summer breeding grounds in Russia’s Arctic archipelago.

Unlike Sweden and Estonia, it’s not legal to hunt the barnacle geese in Finland and when they land in agricultural areas they can devastate farmers’ crops. There is compensation, but the real damage is likely to be higher still.

“We know that in 2018 €1.1 million was paid for damages, or compensation” says Timo Leskinen, from the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners MTK.

“But how much is the real cost of the damage? I’m sorry to say we don’t know how much is the real amount but of course it is much bigger and it’s very difficult because these birds come every year again and again” he tells News Now Finland.

When crops are damaged at this stage of the growing season, there isn’t time to wait for the geese to move on and then for farmers to plant more crops in time to harvest them before the summer turns to autumn.

File picture of laser system to scare geese / Credit: Ely Keskus

Exploring different ways to scare the geese 

Farmers tell MTK they want to be able to hunt the birds, to shoot them so they learn to stay away from agricultural land. But that’s just one of the options being trialed to scare the barnacle geese.

An exemption in southwest Finland this year will allow farmers to shoot 20 to 40 barnacle geese each year – up to a total of 375 birds. That part of Finland has a small resident population of the geese, as well as seeing an influx from migrating birds as well.

The permits are not intended to cut down on the bird numbers, but to make them more distrustful of humans and farming areas.

In North Karelia a new system of lasers has been put in place to see if the beams can scare the geese away from agricultural areas.

Funded by Ely Keskus – the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, the lasers that have been put in place at Tohmajärvi fire green beams across the fields and when the geese see it from the sky they don’t land in that area.

The experiment will continue for a few years to see how it affects the geese and other species of bird, but one drawback is that one laser can only cover a relatively small patch of farmland and a much larger network would have to be put in place to protect entire crops.

Meanwhile a Helsinki City Councilor wants to use natural defences as barnacle goose deterrents.

Petrus Pennanen from the Open Party has proposed an initiative to encourage more foxes, owls and ospreys to breed in the capital city which in turn would reduce the damage caused by seagulls, rats and geese.

Although it’s difficult to get the predators to set up home in exactly the places they would be best to fight the more damaging species, the recent nesting sea eagles in Helsinki could act as a biological experiment at the top of the food chain if they limit the number of geese or seagulls in the region.

Bird’s eye view of barnacle geese in a field in Kittee, North Karelia / Credit: MTK