Climate Change and the Geese-Farmer Conflict in Finland: A Study of Crop Damage

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Finland is a country of lakes, forests, and wetlands, where agriculture and wildlife coexist in harmony.

However, this balance is being threatened by climate change, which is altering the migration patterns and behavior of a large and hungry bird: the barnacle goose.

Barnacle Geese: a migratory marvel

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(Photo : Pierre Crom/Getty Images)


Barnacle geese are medium-sized black-and-white waterfowl that belong to the same family as ducks and swans. They are native to the northern regions of Europe and Asia, where they breed in the Arctic tundra during the summer and spend the winter in temperate areas, as per Phys.org.

Barnacle geese are remarkable for their long-distance migrations, which can span up to 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) each way.

They fly in large flocks, often forming V-shaped formations to save energy and communicate. They rely on stopover sites along their route, where they rest and feed on grasses, sedges, and other plants

Barnacle geese have a complex and fascinating life history, which involves several stages of development and adaptation.

They mate for life, and usually lay four to six eggs in a nest made of grass and feathers. The eggs hatch after about a month, and the goslings can walk and swim shortly after. The parents lead them to feeding grounds, where they grow rapidly and learn to fly.

After their first summer, the young geese join their parents and other adults in their annual migration.

They usually return to their natal area to breed when they are two or three years old. On average, they can live up to 25 years in the wild, facing various threats such as predators, hunters, diseases, and habitat loss

Climate change: a disruptive force

Climate change is affecting barnacle geese in several ways, both directly and indirectly. One of the most noticeable effects is the shift in their migration timing and route.

As the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the planet, the snow melts earlier and the vegetation grows faster in the breeding grounds, as per Raw Story.

This creates a mismatch between the arrival of the geese and the availability of food.

To cope with this change, barnacle geese have advanced their spring migration by about two weeks over the past 50 years.

They have also changed their stopover sites, moving from traditional areas in Russia and Estonia to new ones in Finland and Sweden.

These areas offer more abundant and nutritious food sources, such as agricultural fields.

However, this adaptation comes at a cost for both the geese and the farmers. The geese face increased competition and disturbance from other birds and humans.

The farmers face significant losses of crops and income due to the grazing pressure of thousands of hungry geese.

According to a recent study by researchers from Finland and Germany, climate warming has increased conflicts between barnacle geese and farmers in Finland’s eastern Karelia region. The study found that:

The number of barnacle geese stopping over in Finland has increased from a few thousand in the 1990s to hundreds of thousands in recent years.

The geese consume up to 85% of the grassland meant for cattle grazing, causing losses of up to two-thirds of income for some farmers.

The farmers have tried various methods to scare away or deter the geese, such as laser cannons, drones, loudspeakers, or hunting permits, but with limited success.

The farmers have also received some compensation from the government for crop damage, but not enough to cover their losses or encourage them to continue farming.

The study suggests that climate warming is likely to worsen the situation in the future, as more geese will migrate northward and stay longer in Finland.

It also suggests that more effective and sustainable solutions are needed to reduce conflicts and promote coexistence between geese and farmers.

Also Read: How Arctic Geese Population Adapts To Extreme Temperatures, Warming Threat

Solutions: finding a balance

The conflicts between barnacle geese and farmers in Finland are not unique or isolated. Similar problems have been reported in other countries along the migration route of the geese, such as Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.

These problems reflect a broader challenge of managing human-wildlife interactions in a changing world.

There is no simple or single solution to this challenge, but rather a range of possible options that require cooperation and coordination among different stakeholders. Some of these options include:

  • Improving monitoring and modeling of barnacle goose populations, movements, and impacts on agriculture and ecosystems.
  • Developing adaptive management plans that take into account the ecological needs of the geese and the economic needs of the farmers.
  • Implementing effective and humane methods to prevent or reduce crop damage by geese, such as scaring devices, repellents, fences, cover crops, or alternative crops.
  • Providing adequate and fair compensation to farmers for crop losses and incentives for conservation measures.
  • Enhancing public awareness and education about the importance and value of barnacle geese and their migration.
  • Promoting dialogue and collaboration among farmers, conservationists, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to find common ground and mutual benefits.

Related article: Migrating Geese Save Energy by Riding a Himalayan Roller Coaster


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