Southern Iceland Beset by Barnacle Geese

Barnacle geese

A dramatic influx of barnacle geese in South Iceland is raising concern among farmers whose crops are being compromised by these winged invaders, RÚV reports. A recent study shows that the geese are reducing hay harvests by as much as 24%, leading some to call for a longer hunting season to better control the birds’ population.

Last spring, the South East Iceland Nature Research Center investigated the effects of goose grazing on hay harvesting and found that on average, farmers whose fields are beset with barnacle geese are losing three hay bales per hectare (2.471 acres).

“…The fields are just completely stripped by those creatures when they leave at the start of May,” complained Björn Borgþór Þorbergsson, a farmer in Suðursveit. “For example, the thing that was worst about the spring was that there was double the amount of manure and half the harvest on part of the fields.”

GPS trackers show that barnacle geese typically stop over in South and Southeast Iceland in the early part of spring, before continuing on to Greenland where they lay their eggs. The geese have increasingly started nesting in Iceland, however. In 2014, 360 barnacle geese nests were found on Skúmey island in the Jökusárlón glacial lagoon. This went up to 970 in 2017 and last summer, there were over 1,100.

“There’s very little you can really do about it yourself,” said Björn. “Shooting them always returns the best results, but as you know, you’re not allowed to do that in the spring.” Currently, the hunting season for geese begins on September 25, which according to Björn, isn’t early enough.

“[The barnacle goose] is haunting us over the summers, too. He’s become a local here.”