In one region of Finland, thousands of hungry wild geese are wreaking havoc on farmers’ fields, leaving them without grass and hurting their incomes. The barnacle goose, a migratory bird species from northern Europe and eastern Greenland, used to stop over in Finland during its migration to the Arctic, but over the past two decades, its numbers have increased considerably.
Farmers find themselves in fierce competition with geese for arable land. At this time of year, the fields should be full of tall grass, but due to the birds’ voracity, only blades remain. Kari Pekonen, a third-generation livestock farmer, has suffered great financial losses, as the damage caused by the geese accounts for about two-thirds of his income. His cattle herd has shrunk from 300 head to less than 100 in just two years.
Farmers have tried various solutions to scare the birds away without harming them, such as solar-powered laser cannons, drones in the shape of birds of prey, and loudspeakers that emit the cries of frightened geese. However, these measures have not been effective, as the geese quickly get used to them and become immune to them.
The hunting of wild geese was banned in the 1970s because of their danger of extinction, but international protection agreements have allowed their population to recover. Some farmers would like to resume hunting as a solution to scare the geese away, but experts point out that there will always be geese and they will always need a place to feed.
Since the species is protected, the Finnish state must pay compensation to farmers for the damage caused. This represents a figure in excess of $3 million per year in eastern Finland alone. As a measure to mitigate the conflict, the Finnish Natural Resources Institute plans to designate specific fields exclusively for geese. However, many farmers are discouraged and wonder whether it is worth working for a third of their wages.