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have played an integral part in the history of mankind. Hunting
was essential to the survival of all family groups of Neolithic
man. The arrival of great skeins of geese from the North each autumn
was a source of wonder through the millennia, and myths developed
to try and explain this.
geese, for example, were believed to change into barnacles each
spring, and this belief persisted until the middle of the 19th Century
when their Arctic nesting places were discovered.
most important goose in history of mankind was the Greylag
goose. This was primarily because they did not migrate. They bred
throughout Europe on:
sitting bird, with her stubborn refusal to leave her eggs - especially
if they were hatching or on the point of hatching, made an irresistible
target for hunters.
newly-hatched goslings could be given to the children to hand-rear.
Provided they were warmed at regular intervals through the day and
night for the first ten days or so, they were easy to rear as they
fed mainly on short grass. The goslings would also be imprinted
on humans, a phenomenon often witnessed but not understood until
Greylag geese would thus be found in nearly every encampment,
especially as they provided - as the Romans were to discover centuries
later - highly effective security. The watchfulness of geese, combined
with the abilities of dogs, must have contributed greatly to the
survival of people living in small families in areas full of
captured geese bred and, during 3,000 years (at least) of captive
breeding, it was inevitable that all sorts of mutations would occur.
These took the form of variations in colour, size and feather type.
With further selection these developed into breeds. Some
- such as the all-white geese of Rome which, by cackling, saved
the city from stealthy attack - are known as Romans to this
there are many other breeds, most refined during the last 200 to
300 years. All descended from the Greylag and will interbreed
quite happily, producing fertile young. It is the skill of breeders
practising selection which have maintained and developed the often
spectacular breeds we see today.
One of the most eye-catching is the Sebastopol, or Pantomime
goose, achieving the latter name because of its comical appearance.
These geese are widely distributed in Eastern Europe, particularly
in the countries surrounding the Black Sea. Goose down and feathers
have always been important for stuffing pillows and bed coverings.
The over-abundance, and length of the Sebastopol's exaggerated
appearance was important in this respect. In the "best" examples,
the long-trailing, wavy body feathers should loop round a man's
clenched fist twice. The first Sebastopols entered Britain
in 1859, and they have remained popular with specialist breeders
geese on display will be a variety of "farmyard" types, of
normal goose shape and size, and varied mottled colours. These are
typical of geese surrounding farmyards and stables in Bethlehem
2,000 years ago. One could safely speculate that Jesus was
born within earshot of farmyard geese somewhere close-by, if not
actually in the stable itself, though that is also a possibility.
Canada Goose Conservation Society, PO Box 6691, London E17 7RS
Opposes the culling of Canada Geese which readers may be familiar
with on their local ponds and reservoirs. The first Canada Geese
to be introduced to the UK arrived in London in the 1600s. Numbers
have built up since then, supplemented by vagranys blown across
the Atlantic by stormy winds. Where people are trying to maintain
open parkland, these geese and their droppings can prove a nuisance.
Culls have involved shooting the geese and pricking their eggs.