Council talks- “if it isn’t broke let’s not fix it.”

This is a long overdue but necessary follow up and update on what has been happening with regards to Sandwell council and Canada geese. It is perhaps best to read this post from last December as a starting point.

After handing in the petition last year, and also the culmination of the upheld Ombudsman complaint regarding park officer lies, a small group of us did indeed meet with new parks manager Max Cookson and new Cabinet member for Environment Dave Hossell.

From this initial meeting Councillor Hossell confirmed that “a lot of people weren’t happy about it either”– this in relation to his  predecessor and also Max Cookson’s predecessor’s goose cull.

  • We talked about potential strategies for reducing conflicts in certain areas and this resulted in a site visit where suggestions were put forward in this regard.
  • We also asked for increased sweeping at Victoria Park Tipton, and it was stated that the sweeper could be deployed around the circumference of the lake, and would be on a regular basis. A small area was also in fact redesigned so that this could happen.
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Easily done

  • There was some suggestion of fencing off part of the pool from the football pitch- though it was later revealed that no one leases the pitch for this activity.
  • It was agreed to look at vegetation management on the countryside sites to make them more attractive to geese- in an attempt to encourage them to remain at these areas.
  • Egg pricking was a grey area and we queried whether the serious questions surrounding Pestex and their actions would see them continue to be employed by Sandwell council.
  • It was agreed that number of eggs pricked by the contractor could not be confirmed by the council, and concern was also expressed as to why this company had been used to “round up” a feral cat on one of the Sandwell farms!
  • It appeared that the council were looking at doing the egg pricking  task themselves and it was stated that officers would be looking into this.
  • A minibus tour of certain areas was suggested.
  • Overall it appeared that the council were keen to draw a line under the previous regime and to inform rather than dictate what they would potentially be doing going forward. A joined up strategy of management of parks and open spaces, was it was agreed the correct way to reduce conflicts of interest between certain park users and geese.

But this is unfortunately I am afraid where the positive comments end, as most of what was agreed, or stated would happen, has to date either not or appears to have petered out.

I was unhappy about comments that Dave Hossell was making in contrast to those being spouted by Richard Marshall in this Express and Star article– now currently ex Leisure cabinet member with responsibility of Parks. Marshall’s public comments  were at odds with Hossell’s in private. (Perhaps it’s wise not to “inadvertently swallow” all natural arisings that SMBC councillors produce). 😆

“Councillor Richard Marshall, cabinet member for leisure, said: “The council is not anti-geese but the mess they leave on paths and pavements is a cause for complaints from residents, especially when people stand in one place to feed them and that in turn attracts vermin and all of those associated issues.”

This E/S story seized upon a freedom of information request that had been submitted about egg pricking and the external pest controller that the council were using. Quite frankly I am not stupid enough to fall for good cop/bad cop for the sake of pacification- so in this regard I copied both into an email to Max Cookson.

I was not happy about the council’s lack of statement as to what their actual position was, and also if Marshall had even been party to any of the comments and suggestions that we had discussed at meetings. It is clear that historically these “complaints” were highly suspect from vested interest parties, and it has also become clear that one ex councillor was writing anti goose letters to the express and star in a fake name.

This therefore is Sandwell council’s official statement regarding geese.

“Dear Mr Carroll,

 

Thank you for your recent e mail. Please find below my responses to your questions/comments in red.

Having had three meetings now , and having set out our position I would be grateful if you could put in writing Sandwell council’s in terms of what it believes to be “measurable success” in attempting non-lethal methods of site management?

Just to be clear we are not and do not wish to

*attempt to eradicate geese from Sandwell’s formal parks

Agreed, it is not the intention of SMBC to eradicate geese from Sandwell’s formal parks

*destroy all goose eggs so that no goslings ever hatch

It is not the intention of SMBC to “destroy” all goose eggs to ensure that no goslings ever hatch. We will continue to undertake a programme of oiling and pricking eggs, ensuring that some eggs remain and are allowed to hatch. In future the numbers of eggs pricked/oiled will be recorded against the total number of eggs present.

*against all feeding of birds in formal parks where this is usually the only mechanism where ill or sick birds can be observed, monitored and rescued

SMBC will continue to discourage the feeding of birds within its formal parks, particularly the practice of feeding bread to geese/swans/waterfowl. Seed based feed is acceptable, however, it should be noted that this type of feeding is not discriminate and can also encourage vermin within the parks, and this situation will need to be monitored and managed accordingly.

*fence off all pools and prevent wildfowl accessing their natural food source- i.e grass

Certain areas of pools will be fenced off to encourage wildfowl to access selected areas of feeding/access to grass. Access points to and from the water  

will be maintained to allow geese/wildfowl to feed as required.

We do wish to

*reduce complaints from park visitors concerning goose excrement- by methods we have discussed- i.e increased sweeping around paths (preferably towards the end of the week, before the weekend when most visitors will be in the parks), and also trials of fencing in certain areas.

Agreed. Increased Sweeper visits are already in place at Victoria Park as is a plan to fence certain areas of the pool. This practice will continue throughout our formal parks where necessary and where budgets allow. Further meetings of the “Goose Group” will help to identify areas of concern and propose remedial action.

*Attempt to allay people’s misguided fears about geese and the very low human health risk associated with droppings.

This is primarily a matter of education. However, it is my sincere hope that some of the measures proposed above, will reduce the concerns that some people have regarding goose droppings, mainly by ensuring that the droppings are swept frequently, and areas where geese feed are, wherever possible, remote from areas of the park which are utilised frequently for sporting events.

*encourage the birds to graze on areas away from sports provision, but also realising that these areas are not in constant use are not desired by all park users.

See previous answers

*introduce natural food sources to pools/islands such as the formal park pools which enhance the visual amenity and encourage environmental improvements

Agreed.  We have already agreed to try “Reed Beds” in pools and we will explore this measure further.  

*There is a scenario which I foresee, and which I am not prepared to enter into whereby the council will be seen to do or agree to all of these things, yet maintain the notion that they will somehow “fail” because people keep making complaints. I am not sure what “fail” means to SMBC, so I would be grateful if you could clarify this. What would constitute a “failure”  having undertaken non-lethal methods?

I am of the opinion that in order to constitute a “failure” of non-lethal measures to control geese numbers, the geese on site would have to present a clear and present nuisance/threat/danger to those persons using the park. In this case the use of the term “Failure is entirely subjective, what one person may consider a failure may be entirely different to another individuals view on the matter. I will state however, that as long as I remain in the post of Service Manager my primary goal will be to manage bird numbers within the park in a balanced and humane manner. SMBC have no plans to undertake culling at the present time and nor do we foresee planning to cull in the next three years at least. I can further assure you that no future culls will take place without consultation with yourself and other interested parties.

I would remind you, if you are not aware, that complaints alone are NOT a valid reason for culling birds under Natural England’s current guidance or general licences.

Please see above

We have noted that there are numerous individuals who will attempt to make spiteful and vexatious complaints in a deliberate attempt to get the council to destroy all the birds, before moving on to something else. I would be grateful therefore if you could set out clearly what the council’s position is.

As a local authority we are bound to investigate and wherever possible respond to complaints, wherever and whomever they may come from. If a vexatious claimant is identified, measures will be taken to deal with their complaints in a prescribed manner. We will continue to investigate all complaints and respond to them in the appropriate manner.

(redacted question and answer)

I would also wish that for future meetings that both Councillors Hossell and Marshall could be present, just to ensure that we are all working on the same page and are aware of the direction that we at heading in is one shared.

I shall invite both Councillors to our next meeting.

Regards

 

Max Cookson

Waste & Transport Manager

 

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Unfortunately after this Councillor Marshall and Councillor Hossell appear to have disengaged with this issue altogether- I wonder why?

But this is Sandwell council’s position. I have ALL meetings recorded- including all site visits made by officers.

Sweeping around Victoria Park was for some unexplained reason stopped before the summer- when it was of course most needed. WHY? Just to be clear at a recent meeting 10/10/17 we attended I asked if this was about a cost issue.

Max Cookson stated   “no,no,no,no,no ..because Serco on a small area like that , and it is a small area in the grand scheme of things , you know when you look at the whole borough erm it’s not a problem for them, even if we have to send one off route technically, you know if he’s driving off to go somewhere else. He if has to scoot round there.  “  and said that he would be fixing this issue and having the area jet washed. To be fair to him sweeping has resumed- and so it should remain as had been agreed. SO COST IS NOT AN ISSUE HERE TO REDUCE ANY FAECES AROUND THE POOL- IT IS IN THE HANDS OF MANAGEMENT AND SERCO STAFF TO DO THIS.

All talk of fencing appears to have been dropped, as has any plans concerning vegetation planting for now.

It is possible to acquire machines such as the one below for clearing football pitches of any goose or other animal excrement. Just remember to put some oil and water in it so it doesn’t blow up, and not crash it into a shed. 😛 (Though if you have family connections in SMBC this tends to be overlooked. ) :roll:

So what are we to make then of current Sandwell leader Steve Eling’s comments in another recent Express and Star article– again concerning a freedom of information request about the council and goose egg pricking– something which is and always has been their existing policy since 1997 and as stated above by their current park manager:

“It is not the intention of SMBC to “destroy” all goose eggs to ensure that no goslings ever hatch. We will continue to undertake a programme of oiling and pricking eggs, ensuring that some eggs remain and are allowed to hatch. In future the numbers of eggs pricked/oiled will be recorded against the total number of eggs present.”

To start with this headline and tone of article is fake news and very poorly informed. I am not sure to what extent Eling has been briefed by his staff or cabinet members, or if like the vile gangster Darren Cooper deceased (ex SMBC leader who claimed to have made the decision to cull himself but without any paper trail to confirm this), he just makes shit up as he goes along. No one at the Express and Star contacted me for comment- they would see from this article and the content that some positive progress has been made with officers, but Eling’s comments appear to knock these back.

We have never as a campaign called for eggs not to be pricked- as can be seen above! Egg pricking is a non-lethal method put forward by groups such as animal aid and is vastly preferable to breaking necks. It is also clear from personal experience that natural predation of both eggs and goslings reduces numbers significantly without need for all eggs to be pricked.

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A gull and goose egg dinner at Victoria park Tipton

This headline is therefore false. The reason that the council did not prick as many eggs in 2017 are-

  • Pestex figures were lies from the year before- the council admit they could not verify them
  • The council did not get around to egg pricking till late in the season- they have admitted this.
  • They did not appear to enter any of the formal parks to prick eggs- just some of the nature reserves.
  • This therefore is entirely an internal SMBC matter and policy matter- and not as the article misleads anything to do with outside pressure and there has not been any “storm” over the practice. Utter made up bullshit.

Steve Eling is quoted

“People who love them think nothing should be done to control the population.

“It is about the size of the population rather than having none at all. We actually get more complaints about geese than complaints that nothing should be done about them.”

Eling’s claims about “complaints” can be assessed by a direct question which I asked Max Cookson at the recent meeting on 10/10/17 , before the publication of this news story.

 “I also think we have to look at this from the point of view of complaints …. I’ve not been made aware of any large number of complaints regarding wildlife” 

There was also agreement at this meeting to look at the figures of hatching geese/eggs nest year and that “if it isn’t broke let’s not fix it.”

QUITE!

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