Basin Notes - December 2002


One of the most popular recreational uses of the basin is wildfowling. It is a subject that comes up frequently whenever I speak to visitors about the reserve or when undertaking events.

They may see a line of marker buoys at high tide and enquire about their purpose or they may be asking me about goose movements off the reserve.

Recently, Karen the SWT Conservation Manager and myself took a group of people out to the north side of the reserve for the SWT event Goosie Gander.

This is where the Pink-footed Goose population of the reserve displayed their close formation flying as they leave their roost early in the morning to feed on the arable fields inland.

It was then that I thought my first article would be on the wildfowling to introduce the readers to the long tradition of this sport. As I am the Angus Council's Countryside Ranger at the Basin one of my duties is to warden the wildfowling I therefore have a good understanding of this activity.

Wildfowling has a very long tradition on the basin. It was a method of providing food for King Robert the Bruce when he sat at court in Forfar during the early 14th century. Birds of prey were used to take the birds, as firearms were not developed until 165 years later.

A Falconer was employed to provide fresh meat fOr the king and resided at what became Fullerton (Fowler-ton) farm situated west of the reserve.

Commercial Wildfowling has also taken place on the basin by "backsanders" - the local name - during the late 1960s. This was undertaken by the Davidson brothers among others.

These guys must have been extremely hardy as this is a cold and wet sport that requires good equipment especially if you don't want to suffer from the extreme weather conditions which are essential for success. You must also remember that today's winters are much milder than in the past.

These wildfowlers identified the skills and standards required in today's sport and these principals have now been passed down from father to son and in some cases are implemented in the Codes of Practice for Shooting on Montrose Basin.

Prior to the establishment of a reserve in 1981, wildfowling on the Basin was uncontrolled and shooting took place at any time of the day. The increase in shooting pressure was a result of increased mobility and many people shooting on the basin then were from outwith Montrose.

It was the local wildfowling club, Montrose and District Wildfowlers Association, who first identified the need for controls on the shooting in the mid 1960s and recommended no shooting zones and a permit system.

These farsighted proposals for control were not implemented for another 15 years once the Council became involved in the establishment of a Local Nature Reserve. This is because the Council has powers through various pieces of legislation to install byelaws that control almost every activity on the Reserve. The exception being the landowners vested rights.

Today wildfowling is strictly controlled by a permit system operated by Angus Council and shooting is limited to 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. Shooting is restricted to the western half of the Reserve. The sanctuary area, where the geese roost, is strictly off limits to shooting and a line of marker buoys identifies the boundary between the two areas.

The shooting season begins on September 1st until February 20th. No shooting takes place on Sundays or Christmas day.

The compulsory return of the permit (no permit returned - no permit is issued the following season) provides information on bag returns and wildfowling use. If the returns were exceptionally high then the number of permits issued may be depressed to reduce the pressure on the reserves wildfowl population.

There are three types of permit - seasonal, visitor and club. Visiting wildfowlers are an important category of permit holders as they bring additional spending to the Montrose area with their permit charges, accommodation, food and other purchases at an especially lean time of the year for tourism.

A study by British Association for Shooting and Conservation along with Scottish Wildlife Trust identified that approximately £38,000 is generated from the shooting that takes place on Montrose basin.

As goose numbers continue to increase the hunting mortality can play an important part in reducing their numbers.

A case to consider is the Lesser Snow Goose. In Canada the show goose population is unparalleled by any other goose species and their numbers stand at three million.

They nest around Hudson Bay and are beginning to destroy their habitat because their feeding behaviour is destructive (they grub the soil for roots), their vast numbers (u to 3,000 nest per kilometre square) and also the act that tundra takes so long to recover.

The Canadian government, in an attempt to reduce their number, have given the indigenous people of the north free cartridges to shoot geese and distribute them among the elderly people of the area.

This has provided the people with food and to some degree helped reduce the Snow Goose population. Therefore, wildfowl are a vital resource to many people in northern climates.

Wildfowlers make several contributions to the reserve and wildfowl in general.

The wildfowling club assists with the management of the reserve by attending grey goose counts undertaken each fortnight, they provide a crop protection service to the landowners on the reserve which is very important at certain times of the year.

Perhaps the most important club contribution is the assistance they provided with the management of the reserve as they have a seat on the management committee of the reserve.

Wildfowl, as you will be aware, are migratory birds and their breeding habitat is especially important to them and therefore wildfowlers.

All wildfowlers purchase a voluntary £5 habitat stamp. The proceeds of this goes to projects in Latvia, Lithuania and other Baltic states to aid the management of breeding habitat in theses countries.

This ensures that there are plenty of birds - a resource - that can be harvested. Some of this money is used for projects in the UK such as the management of Mugdrum Island in the Firth of Tay.

An improved grazing regime here has enhanced the environment for breeding redshank.

Without doubt wildfowlers make a considerable contribution to wildfowl and their management. They care about the wildlife around them as much as the other users of the reserve and undoubtedly have an important part to play in the management of wetland and estuarine areas.