This is the story of geese and men, and how they can learn to coexist in peace. The present project focussed on two Natura 2000 sites in the North East Bulgaria - Durankulashko ezero and Shablenski ezeren kompleks. During the winter months these two lakes shelter up to 90% of the global population of the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) which is the world’s most threatened goose species.
The lakes are located along the Black Sea coast and in the vicinity of large areas of arable land. The cereal fields provide excellent foraging grounds for the geese. But, as the livelihoods of local people depend on crop yields, the farmers were understandably outraged when large flocks of geese invaded their fields. Understandably they made every effort to chase them away. This however caused the geese to loose energy and many were unable to make their long journey back to Taymir, where they breed. The ones that survived often failed to breed the following summer.
A LIFE project, run by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), started working with local farmers, like Kirilovi Ltd, to study the grazing patterns of the geese and their effects on crop yields in order to develop a management regime that was acceptable to both the farmers and conservationists. This led to the launch of a new EU-funded agri-environmental payment scheme that compensates farmers financially for farming their land in a goose-friendly manner. Additional activities include the creation of buffer strips along water bodies, spreading corn and feeding winter crops with growth stimulators.
The pilot scheme turned out to be very popular with the farmers and was therefore rolled out over the entire area. Thanks in particular to the efforts and the inclusive approach of the project, the farmers’ initial antagonism was overcome and replaced at the end of the project with gratitude and trust that was hard to win.
Today, the agri-environmental scheme covers almost 85% of the priority foraging areas for the red-breasted goose on more than 19,000ha, thus ensuring its successful wintering and ultimate survival. The extensive consultations with farmers, hunters and anglers not only significantly reduced the disturbance and killing of red-breasted geese in the area but also provided the farmers themselves with financial incentives to continue to farm the land in a wildlife friendly manner.
As a result, this project has clearly made a major contribution to the long-term protection of this emblematic species and to resolving the once deeply engrained conflicts between farmers and geese.