Growing numbers of geese are causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to Shetland’s agricultural land, leaving producers at risk of going out of business.
Councillor and crofter Allison Duncan has called for more control to be exercised over the island’s geese population.
He warned members of today’s executive committee many acres of crops were being lost to the greedy birds which stop here.
Councillors were told geese had caused over £100,000-worth of damage to crops in 20 holdings.
The revelation came after the presentation of a report on a four-year agricultural strategy by economic development manager Douglas Irvine.
Mr Duncan asked: “Have you any future plans for the control of geese? Because in the years past they came through, stopped down here and then moved onwards, but now they are staying here and actually breeding in Shetland.
“In the South Mainland one unit has lost thousands of pounds and if this continues, with people losing carrots and turnips, they’re going to go out of business.”
Councillor George Smith said a study of geese migration had shown over £100,000-worth of reported damage to 20 agricultural units in the isles.
He had learned the news during a presentation run as part of the SIC’s graduate placement scheme, which recently became one of the victims of the council’s serious financial problems.
“This is a scheme that’s under some threat, and here’s a project that has an immediate if not longer term value.”
Mr Duncan clashed with fellow members over how best to advance Shetland’s agricultural sector between now and 2016.
Several argued against him after he claimed smaller holdings should come together if they are to survive rising costs and attract more young people into the industry.
He pointed to a decline in crofts in his native Quendale.
Mr Duncan said the number of small-scale holdings in his area had dropped from 25 to 12, adding it was predominantly people who are over 60 that are “running the show”.
“The way forward has to be an amalgamation of crofts. Smaller units can’t afford to buy tractors and machinery. Out of those 25 crofts I can tell you, to the best of my knowledge and belief, only one full time croft is living from that industry, including his legitimate subsidies.
“That’s the decline I’ve seen in my locality. That’s the way agriculture will go in Shetland. I know I’m speaking doom and gloom, but it’s a declining industry. It will take many years of hard work and younger people coming forward for it to recover.”
Councillor Alastair Cooper said he disagreed with that viewpoint.
While he accepted there had to be some “consolidation” in the industry, he insisted Shetland depends on part-time crofters willing to put their time and energy into the sector.
“If you amalgamate crofts one of the things you end up with is crofters with 2,000 sheep, and they’re still only working by themselves, so you’re not bringing new people into the industry.”
Councillor Michael Stout was another member who saw smaller-scale operators making up the face of Shetland’s agricultural sector.
“We have to keep in mind, as a council, how the face of Shetland’s agriculture is going to look in the future.”
Councillor Theo Smith said he did not agree with Mr Duncan’s “doom and gloom scenario”, either. He described his West Side ward as having a “healthy agricultural scene”.
Jonathan Wills questioned the point of having an agricultural strategy at all, insisting it was really a matter for the industry to take to SNH.
“We’ve spent a large sum of council money in the last 30 years turning large areas of hill grazing into perfect goose pasture. I’m losing sympathy.”
Mr Irvine said every other council in the Highlands and Islands was involved in lobbying for the agricultural industry.
“We would be standing alone if we did not do that,” he told members.
The strategy is the fourth of its kind since 1981. However the latest document aims to focus more on market demands rather than simply production.
Among the immediate tasks it has identified is representing producers as forthcoming reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy are formulated.
It also aims to instigate the introduction of a loan scheme and develop the local market for meat and crops.