€400,000 to boost bird population by just six
ALMOST €400,000 of taxpayers' cash was spent last year to boost numbers of the endangered corncrake -- by just six birds.
Officials admitted yesterday they had spent almost twice as much as initially estimated to rent fields from farmers where the birds live and breed, as well as control predators and carry out a field population census.
Despite the huge cost, experts defended the programme and said official numbers of corncrakes this year increased by six, to a total of 133 birds.
Divisional manager of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Pat Warner said the census had recorded 91 in Co Donegal, 40 in west Connacht and two in the Shannon Callows, an area along the Shannon subject to regular flooding.
Mr Warner said: "There was a marginal increase this year for the corncrake. We are doing absolutely everything possible we can for the species."
He admitted that the birds had been given the 'Rolls Royce treatment'. "It is a lot of money, but I believe it is fairly good value for money. We have cut our overheads significantly.
"The corncrake is a very charismatic species and we have been trying to save it for the past 20 years. We don't give up easily and we are now throwing the kitchen sink at it with a package of measures."
The €384,000 spend included €67,000 on controlling mink, which have wreaked havoc on the corncrake population.
Mr Warner confirmed that 200 mink in the immediate vicinity of corncrake nests were killed humanely during the summer.
He added that the money spent on the corncrake included €209,000 for 'land management' to rent fields from farmers where corncrakes are located; €108,000 on a field census and field workers who liaise with farmers; and €67,000 to employ three gamekeepers on the mink predator programme.
The €384,000 outlay is almost double the department's initial estimate of €200,000. The large take-up by farmers in 'land management' resulted in the higher spend.
The corncrake is one of only two breeding species in Ireland that appears on the International Union for Conservation of Nature 'red list' of threatened species. Mechanised farming practices have almost wiped out the population.
Mr Warner said he was not confident that corncrakes would be sustained in the Shannon Callows, and confirmed that the NPWS was already drawing up plans to reintroduce the bird there if it was killed off.
Mr Warner said that the success over the past 15 years had been in Co Donegal, with the corncrake population concentrated on the off-shore islands. He said: "We are putting more of our resources into that area."
Corncrake expert Dr Anita Donaghy, of Birdwatch Ireland, said yesterday that if the department had not put in place the conservation measures, "the corncrake would be extinct in Ireland by now".
She added: "With the measures in place, I don't believe that we are going to lose the corncrake now. They have stabilised the population. The corncrake has a special place in people's hearts. There is enormous affection for the the bird."