Each day I walk through the park, past the mill pond, and nod good morning to one particular goose. He’s quite distinctive, with the white marks on his face. He’s the patriarch of the community of Canada Geese on the mill pond. While his many goslings are growing up, he tirelessly watches over them, protecting them. (Unlike the ducks, which take a rather more laissez faire approach to parenting, letting their tiny ducklings zoom off or get left behind.)
Over the years I’ve grown affectionate towards him – you’ve got to admire that kind of devotion. A couple of years ago a tree fell right on top of the nest his mate was sitting on, yet miraculously she and the eggs survived, and together they brought up the large brood. I was rooting them on, each morning anxiously counting the number of goslings to make sure they were still surviving.
So it came as more of a surprise to me than it should have, when I learned that they count as an invasive non-native species. I mean, the clue’s in their name: Canada Geese. But I still find it hard to think of them in the same category as Japanese knotweed. According to the GB Non-native species secretariat, an invasive non-native species is any non-native animal or plant that has the ability to spread causing damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live.
So, are Canada Geese a problem? They’ve lived in the UK since they were first brought from North America to St James Park back in the 17th century. But their numbers have increased hugely over the last 60 years, going from 4000 in 1953 to around 89,000 in 2000. They are viewed by many as pests – they make a lot of mess on footpaths in parks, and there are concerns they may spread salmonella to cattle. Canada Geese who are nesting or looking after young can be aggressive towards people (which can be a problem as they seem to like living in public parks, bringing them into close contact with people, particularly children). Their droppings may increase the nutrient content of water, which reduces oxygen content for fish. And around airports there have been problems with damage to planes and people when they collide with Canada Geese. The main issue is they are so numerous…
In fact, in some places the eggs of Canada Geese are treated so they will not hatch, to try and prevent them from expanding even more. So while I was rooting on each of the goslings, should have been hoping the reverse? I try and be fairly unsentimental about my love for wildlife. But I can’t yet find it in my heart to feel anything other than affection for at least this one particular Canada Goose, alien invader though he may be.