White-fronted geese: Ban change attacked by bird lovers

Greenland white-fronted geese
Image caption A number of White-fronted geese overwinter on the Dyfi Estuary

Wales is the only country on the flight path of an endangered goose where the birds can be shot and killed, says the Welsh Ornithological Society (Wos).

It has criticised Welsh governent's decision not to press ahead with a gun ban on Greenland white-fronted geese.

Voluntary bans are in place at some wetlands including the Dyfi estuary but the society said only an outright ban can ensure the birds' protection.

Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies extended a voluntary shooting ban.

The UK is thought to host about half the white-fronted goose population of around 25,700 each winter.

The birds are thought to be "highly loyal" to the sites where they spend the winter, so if those populations are killed off the locations are unlikely to be reoccupied by younger birds with no parents to teach them where to land.

Only a small number are thought to over winter in Wales but some sites where they could be found has already been lost.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland the birds are fully protected at all times.

Their numbers increased following shooting bans elsewhere in Europe including in Greenland in 2006 but have declined rapidly over the last few years.

The exact reason for this decline is unclear, but the scientific evidence has shown that the species is extremely vulnerable to hunting pressure.

Ministers in Wales had consulted about a shooting ban which would have come into place on 1 September.

The consultation paper said that failure stem the birds' adult mortality as far as possible "could be seen as a failure to meet both international and domestic conservation obligations".

Wos president Iolo Williams said: "I am ashamed that Wales remains the only country where you are allowed to kill this declining species.

"The Welsh government is meant to be driven by the principles of sustainable development and continuing to allow the shooting of a rare species is clearly not sustainable.

"Studies on their wintering grounds at Wexford Slobs in Ireland clearly showed that the geese are extremely sensitive to hunting mortality."

But the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said wildfowling clubs on the Dyfi estuary had been protecting the main over-wintering population of the geese in Wales for 40 years.

A spokesman said the voluntary no-shooting approach had been a success.

"This conservation effort has been working for four decades. Introducing a law telling people to do what they are already doing seems completely unnecessary."

'Precious birds'

In July, Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies said two-thirds of the responses to the consultation supported an extension of the existing voluntary ban on shooting the geese.

Mr Davies also urged relevant organisations to work together to enhance protection of the birds by expanding the area covered by the voluntary ban.

Announcing his decision, he said: "Measures such as an extension of the shooting ban, improved habitat management on the important [Dyfi] wintering grounds and a more effective recording system to increase our understanding of this precious bird will all help significantly in our efforts to protect this endangered species."

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