For a number of months, volunteers from the Friends of Rowntree Park (guided by the council’s experts) have been seeking to manage the goose situation in the Park, in a humane way.
Doing anything to manage the geese problem does not meet the approval of all – and we do appreciate that we can’t please everyone. Over the decades, there has been much conflicting debate in The Press and over social media (not to mention nationally/internationally) on this issue. There is no simple solution.
The numbers of geese fluctuate, and along with that, the level of nuisance experienced. However, last summer it had again reached a point where there were regularly over 80 geese in the Park. Many local people we spoke to, and who wrote into The Press, were simply unwilling to come to the Park either because their children were scared of the geese or (more likely) because of the sheer volume of goose poo which is unsightly and unhealthy, for young and old alike.
In our work, we remember that our Park is unique because it’s a memorial to the courageous victims of World War 1, as well as a vital resource for recreation, learning and well-being in our increasingly built-up city. The Park is also an essential component in the City’s flood strategy. So for these and many more reasons, it is massively important that the Park continues to be used and enjoyed, maintained and improved.
With so many local people not wanting to visit the Park because of the geese, and the waning in resources available to our Council, those crucial roles of Rowntree Park are endangered.
There have been many debates and conversations with the council and other advisors about the goose situation. As reported in a previous post, we started a programme of goose management using hand-held lasers, which was largely successful. When the goose moulting season set in (June), we induced the final few to leave on foot.
So as of the last week of June, there were no geese in the Park – a couple have returned now and we are certain a few more will return, when they are able to fly comfortably. In small, controllable numbers that will be fine, but we don’t however want to be so overrun that the very future of our Park is called into doubt.
Meanwhile, we continue to discuss other methods to manage them: artificial hawks, daytime volunteer patrols, small fencing around the lake which will deter geese but not mallards. (Incidentally we have had 24 new mallards this year).
A side benefit of our work on this matter has been the daily presence of FRP volunteers in the Park meaning that we can monitor and be active on a range of other vital issues: vandalism, litter, planting, and so forth.
Many thanks to all our goose volunteers – Tom, Val, Lara, Christine and Ruth – who have achieved such success.
We will continue to monitor the goose situation regularly and humanely in the interests of preserving the unique role of our Park in the life of this city and its benefits for so many…
David Rowsell (Goose Herder General)
The geese have been a perennial problem in the park; there are too many of them (out-competing the ducks, moorhens, coots etc), they make too much mess and they are very aggressive in the breeding season. This is a nation-wide problem, and if there was a simple solution, surely someone would have found it by now?
Over the years, we’ve had hours and hours of discussion with the council, working with them to get reports done, suggesting ways of adapting the landscape etc etc. Eventually last summer we agreed with the council that we would start herding the geese. The principle is that the geese are moved on every day, at dawn and dusk, using an Agri-laser; this doesn’t harm the geese, they just think the laser beam is a solid beam or post, and they fly off. We are trained and insured by the council for this.
And it does work; from highs of 100 to 200, we have reduced the numbers to 18 to 35 (representing 1-2 family groups). But this success represents hundreds of volunteer hours, and this level of input may not be sustainable, so we are looking at additional possibilities, which may include low level fences in the lake (as seen in the royal parks in London).
The only amusing thing is that some people seem to think that we haven’t spotted that there is a goose poo problem in the park – if only it was so slight that we could have over-looked this issue!
Occasionally we notice some curious (natural) goings-on in the park and we do our best to figure out what’s happening. Recently a Friend pointed out an area with rust-coloured water running over the lakeside paths – what was it? where did it come from? Was there a giant iron structure buried in the park??
Luckily for us, Gary (one of the gardening volunteers) and his partner Lucy have some expertise in related areas, and Gary emailed to say:
We think that what you’re seeing in the park is the result of iron bacteria, so-called because they use iron, rather than oxygen, during their respiration. In their life cycles, soluble iron from the soil gets turned into insoluble iron (‘rust’, which appears as orange/red slime). This whole process could be a byproduct of all the organic compounds being provided by the multitude of geese and ducks in the park, which will of course encourage growth of microorganisms, which will then use up all the oxygen, allowing anaerobic bacteria in turn to then take control of the ecosystem.
We then asked a follow-up question, about the oily sheen that is sometimes seen in the same areas, and we got this answer:
In this case the oily sheen is the result of the iron bacteria, but rather than hydrocarbons being produced by the bacteria, it could be the bacteria themselves; they’ll proliferate madly but as things become tough they’ll start to die and break down, resulting in an oily sheen. That, or the products they make take on the resemblance of being hydrocarbons or oil, but actually aren’t.
So it looks like Rowntree Park is neither the burial place of a prehistoric iron-working site (a great disappointment to some people!) nor the potential location of Yorkshire’s biggest oil field (a great relief to us all!) But it is fascinating what can emerge if you ‘Ask a Scientist.’
Thank you, Gary and Lucy!
The cherry blossom in the park is looking so lovely, and we’re looking forward to the Japanese Society coming next Saturday, for a blossom celebration. However, we’d also like to celebrate the beauty of the apple blossom. If you haven’t already found it, there is a row of apple trees, of several different types, in Butcher Terrace Field (the bit of the park closest to the Millennium Bridge). The Friends planted these trees a few years ago and they’re now looking thoroughly settled-in. While you’re there, check out the wildlife pond (with tansy bank behind) – the froglets have probably all hopped off to hide in the undergrowth – and the Thicket (a grand-sounding name for a patch of hawthorne, wild rose, hazel etc).
Despite the delightful bank holiday weather (yeuck!), our local birds will still be getting on with sitting on their eggs, tending to their chicks and raising the next generation of birds for the park and the surrounding neighbourhoods. From small to large (including owls and woodpeckers), the birds love our park!
Over the winter, the Friends have been providing wild bird food (seeds etc) from several feeding stations in the park; these are much appreciated by our ‘feathered friends’ and you may notice that the feeding stations will be getting extra attention, during this crucial season! If you would like to be involved in this work, do get in touch with Rosemary (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Offering bird food in your own backyard or garden will allow the birds even more support, by expanding their foraging area, but please do ensure that your feeding station doesn’t make the birds vulnerable to the local cat population. The RSPCA says:
A cat’s natural instinct is to hunt it’s prey but there is a real concern domestic cats are impacting the welfare of local wildlife. To help prevent your cat bringing home unwanted surprises, and to protect local wildlife, we recommend:
- Restrict outdoor access at dusk and dawn when wildlife is most active, at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise.
- Restrict outdoor access after bad weather such as rain, to allow birds to come out and feed.
- Attaching a bell to a quick-release safety collar.
It would also be great if someone knowledgeable could volunteer to keep a regular bird count, for the park. As we have been moving the geese on for several months, we’d like to be sure that this hasn’t had any negative impact on the ducks, coots etc. Get in contact by email@example.com
Off now, to splish-splash-splosh through the puddles!
Between a dog and a three year old, I’m in the park two to three times a day, so I tend to notice the arrival of some new baby waterfowl. A few weeks back, on a trip to the playground, I noticed two baby moorhen near the north island, peeping away in the water while their mother walked along the edge of the island. Before the ramps to the islands were removed during the clearing of the lake a few months ago, baby chicks could easily access dry land. When I walked the dog later in the day, both were beginning to look unwell. Once in the water, they had no way out: they were too small either to get on to the island or out on to the pavement. I made a makeshift raft by tying some sticks together with bits of long grass and managed to scoop one on, but the other was too far away.
Uncertain what else to do, I called the RSPCA – their officer was too busy to get to the park before nightfall, and in any case I don’t think they quite grasped the situation I was describing (they reassured me that it’s natural for moorhen chicks to go in the water not long after they are born; I tried to explain I was less concerned with them being in the water than I was with the fact that they couldn’t get out). They asked me to call in the morning if the chicks were still there and seemed to need help; when I checked on them an hour later, both had already drowned, having swum to exhaustion.
It was at this point that I contacted the Friends of Rowntree Park, to ask what had happened to the ramps. Cath answered my email swiftly and shared my concerns; when a new group of moorhen chicks ended up in the same situation last week, I went straight to Cath to see if the Friends could help. Walking through the park again an hour and half later (armed with sticks and a bit of scrap wood I found on my walk so that, in case she hadn’t received my email, I could attempt to help them myself somehow), I was delighted to find Cath, along with Rosemary and Hugo, mid-rescue operation. They managed to get three chicks back on to the south island, and one on to the north island (a second by the north island had already died). The next day in the park, I gathered some large sticks in the hopes of propping them by the edge of the lake so at the very least they could get a break from swimming, and hopefully on to dry land a bit. As I was doing so, I bumped into Hugo and Rosemary with some new ramps they had made, and Cath made a makeshift nest of sticks on a couple of bricks for them, too. A few hours later I spotted the chicks on Cath’s nest, and a day or two later I spotted them – and one of the smaller ducklings – making good use of the ramp to get on and off the island. After what had happened before, this felt a wonderful success story.
To make a long story short – it was amazing to see such a swift response from the Friends in helping out some of the inhabitants of the park. At a time when budget cuts mean the park depends more and more on volunteers to maintain it, it’s wonderful to see what a dedicated team the Friends are; they’ve certainly inspired me to look into more ways to get involved.
Guest post by Alison
Guest post, from Emma Farley (from “littlesilverhedgehog”)
Now that Spring has sprung, hedgehogs are starting to emerge from hibernation. It is great news that there are already hedgehog houses in Rowntree Park tucked away for spiky residents. Please remember that a hedgehog out in the day is not okay. If you see one in daylight in the park or elsewhere in York, please capture it and place it in a high sided box, keep it warm and contact a hedgehog rescue. Dogs can also attack hedgehogs so please be vigilant and, if an attack happens, it is vital to seek urgent treatment for the hedgehog. You can help York to be a haven for hedgehogs by making your garden and street hedgehog friendly. Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets, check carefully before you strim or mow, ensure there are gaps in fences to enable hedgehogs to travel between gardens and leave out food and water. You will find lots of tips about helping hedgehogs in York at www.facebook.com/littlesilverhedgehog and www.littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com