It is hard to believe that only five weeks ago Friends of Findhorn Bay had not even been dreamed of, and now here we are with our own website, a Findhorn Bay Wildlife Watch Facebook page with 133 members, an inaugural meeting happening in a few days time at the Kinloss Church Community Hall, and over 500 signatures collected on a formal petition to Moray Council, calling for a ban on the killing, injuring and maiming of geese and ducks in the Findhorn Bay Local Nature Reserve. Phew!
As I pause for breath to reflect on what has been quite a hectic month, I recall what drew me to attend that first meeting of concerned residents of Kinloss, Findhorn and Forres on a very chilly 5th November 2015. The invitation came from a friend to attend a meeting of a small group of local people, who were becoming increasingly concerned about the escalation of shooting in the Findhorn Bay Local Nature Reserve and also in the number of dead and injured geese being found around the Bay.
I remembered back to when it dawned on me that shooting was happening on Findhorn Bay. I was shocked that this kind of activity would be allowed in an area designated as a nature reserve, since shooting seems so fundamentally incompatible with the words “nature” and “reserve”. So I started researching the legal position relating to the shooting and I attended a meeting with a few local people who were concerned about the issue in late 2013. One of the group had recently moved to Kinloss and was really disturbed by the intermittent, persistent, almost daily gunfire and the men in camouflage walking around the area carrying shotguns. Well, who wouldn’t be?
There was significant concern amongst us, and so we started to gather information about the situation, such as who owns the land around the Bay, how far the Local Nature Reserve extends, its other legal designations (it is also a Ramsar site, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an EU Special Protection Area and Special Conservation Area), why there had been no movement in relation to the establishment of shooting byelaws for the Bay, even though the Findhorn Bay LNR Committee voted in favour of shooting byelaws back in 2005.
In December 2014, some local people went to the quarterly Findhorn Bay LNR Committee meeting (which is open to the public) to express their concerns at the increase in shooting. This resulted in a rather heated exchange with the Chair of the Findhorn Bay LNR Committee, who happens to be a keen wildfowler himself and who is – let’s put it this way – not exactly impartial or unbiased on the subject of “wildfowlers’ rights”.
Meanwhile the shooting situation on the Bay continued to get worse, with the season since September 2015 being the worst to date in terms of numbers of shooters and dead and injured geese being found around the Bay. Enter stage right the Rev. Louis Bezuidenhout, who became the Church of Scotland minister for Kinloss and Findhorn in January 2015. Louis and his wife Elsie love the Bay and its birdlife and Louis is a keen photographer and nature video maker. He became increasingly shocked by the situation and by the number of people shooting in the nature reserve. Ministers talk to a lot of people of course, but Louis says that he felt rather alone with the shooting issue for quite some time, as did I. Was no one else concerned about the shooting in the nature reserve we both wondered, at opposite ends of the Bay…
In mid-October 2015 Mary Vines started an online petition on the Care2 website, calling for an end to the shooting of the geese on Findhorn Bay. My ears pricked up – this online petition had already gathered several hundred virtual signatures by the time I signed it, and to date 870 people have ‘signed’ it. This petition could not however be officially presented to Moray Council, because their rules on petitions require them to be in writing, and signed only be people living in Moray and on the Electoral Register.
The informal meeting in Kinloss on 5th November gave five residents from Kinloss, Findhorn and Forres the chance to share with each other how we felt about the shooting. By the end of the meeting we had agreed to launch a formal, written petition, with me as the lead petitioner, or “lead goose” as I briefly became known! We had to decide early on whether to call for regulation of the shooting or a total ban. In the end we decided to call for a total ban, because in our hearts that is what all of us would prefer, for the sake of all life within and surrounding the Bay. Our V-formation was very quickly established, and things have been flowing very gracefully between us so far (maybe I am tempting fate by saying that?!)
Since the first meeting three more local people have joined the fledgling Steering Group that we decided to form in order to move things along, so now we are eight. The most heartening thing is that over the last month each of us has stepped forward on different occasions to take the lead with different tasks. The decision to establish a more formal group was taken at our third meeting on 23rd November and the name Friends of Findhorn Bay was unamimously agreed. The decision to hold a public meeting was taken then too, and here we are, 2 days from our inaugural meeting, which will take place just 39 days after our first meeting.
The result of our collective endeavours has been quite astonishing – so much has already been accomplished in so short a time. We realise that the road we are travelling may be long, but when you think of the thousands of miles that a goose migrates each year, one flap at a time… Somehow this puts things a little more into perspective.