‘For some reason, we have seen a huge increase in the numbers of Canada geese since the 1960s,’ says a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. ‘They like a lot of the municipal spaces which have opened up and, once a population has settled, it expands. So numbers have quadrupled.’Today’s British population of Canada geese could be anywhere from the 55,000 estimated by the Wetland Bird Survey to the 96,000 quoted by Natural England, the Government agency.It would be a lot higher had it not been for a change in the law three years ago when the Government finally heeded pleas from local authorities and others to do something about the geese menace.The birds had been causing mayhem everywhere from the Henley Royal Regatta to Heathrow Airport. But they remained protected by the law.
Under the new rules, Canada geese fall under three categories of ‘general licence’ which means that they can be shot – and their eggs can be pricked or removed – provided that they constitute a nuisance to the landscape, a threat to public health or a hazard to aircraft.But before everyone rushes off to the nearest park to follow Prue Leith’s example, it is important to note that the only people permitted to shoot Canada geese are the owners of the land they are menacing, or their agents.And if you want to help yourself to any eggs on public land, you will need a licence from the Government.’If you take the eggs to prevent a nuisance, and you are authorised to do so, then you would not be breaking the law,’ says the RSPB. ‘But if you took them just to make an omelette, that would be an offence.’
The punishment can be up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.Thanks to the change in the law, the Canada goose is slowly coming under control. But it is still a problem, not least for the family which started all this.’We have a resident population of between 500 and 800, going up to 2,000 at certain times of year,’ says a spokeswoman for the Royal Parks, which include St James’s Park, next to Buckingham Palace. ‘The geese used to be a big problem but now that we have a licence to prick the eggs, we have managed to keep the numbers down.’Even so, if you try having a picnic in a park this summer, you still run the risk of a nasty disease thanks to that great lump of feathers eyeing you up from the water’s edge.