Northern Ireland

Goose eggs destroyed to stop plane strikes

A greylag goose with and a gosling under its wing Image copyright ROB SMYTH
Image caption The eggs are destroyed through a process known as egg-pricking, in which the shell is pricked and injected with oil

Almost 1,800 greylag goose eggs have been destroyed at Victoria Park in east Belfast to prevent birds from flying into the engines of nearby aeroplanes.

Victoria Park is close to the George Best Belfast City Airport and planes fly directly overhead.

BBC News NI obtained the data through a freedom of information request to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Belfast City Airport has said it has a legal obligation to control the number of greylag geese for safety reasons.

The eggs are destroyed through a process known as egg-pricking.

During this process the shell is pricked and injected with oil. This prevents the embryo from developing into a chick and hatching.

The parent geese continue to sit on the eggs and therefore will not lay any more.

The airport said the method was the most humane way to manage the population of geese, adding that no adult geese had been culled.

Image caption Councillor Georgina Milne said different methods should be used to control geese numbers

If a bird flies into a plane engine, it can damage the mechanics and a few planes have been brought down as a result of such bird strikes.

'Hospitable grass'

Green Party councillor Georgina Milne, who represents the Victoria Park area, said people enjoyed bringing their children to the park to learn about the wildlife.

"We need to find a more humane solutions which are also more cost-effective," she said.

Ms Milne acknowledged that egg pricking was one of the more humane methods for managing geese, but said different methods should be used.

"It would be better if we tried to modify the environment," she said.

"Geese like very flat green grass so if you start to plant spiky grass it's not as hospitable for them.

"More experimentally in America, they are starting to use drones to try and scare the geese away.

"It's about balancing the very real health and safety risk with animal welfare and I really think that if we try to prevent the geese from landing here, rather than destroying their eggs, it will be much better.

"It's very important that people who use the park know that this is going on so that they can voice their opinions on it."

Image caption Greylag geese can often be seen on the grass beside the water in Victoria Park

Belfast City Airport has held a licence to carry out egg pricking since 2002.

In a freedom of information request the Northern Ireland environment agency revealed that since 2002, 1,775 greylag goose eggs had been oiled and pricked.

The numbers involved vary each year, ranging from fewer than 50 to more than 250.

In recent years, an average of 100 eggs have been pricked.

Hazardous wildlife

A spokesman for the airport said: "In order to control the feral geese population in Victoria Park, the oiling and pricking of eggs is undertaken by a biologist under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and with the permission of Belfast City Council.

"The airport has a legal obligation to reduce the number of hazardous wildlife in the vicinity of the airport and does this through consultation with local authorities and wildlife experts.

"Earlier this year, Belfast City Airport was named Northern Ireland's Responsible Company of the Year by Business in the Community and, like all airports, is committed to managing its operations in an environmentally sensitive manner whilst ensuring air safety."

Image caption Planes regularly fly over Victoria Park and the geese throughout the day

A spokesperson for the council said: "Public health and safety is paramount to Belfast City Council.

"Due to concerns over the number of greylag geese in Victoria Park, and their potential threat to landing or taking off aircraft at George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast City Council has an agreement with the airport granting them access to Victoria Park to carryout egg pricking."

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