Sunday 22 October 2017

Extinction threat for Ireland’s iconic birds

Bird species such as the barn owl are in dramatic decline
Bird species such as the barn owl are in dramatic decline
Extinction threat: iconic bird species such as the curlew are in dramatic decline
Bird species such as the corncrake are in dramatic decline

SOME of Ireland’s most iconic bird species are in dramatic decline with one-in-eight now deemed to face an extinction threat.

The warning came as a major ornithological conference in University College Cork (UCC) heard that the species decline has occurred despite the greatest conservation effort in Irish history.

The threat is now so severe that, within the next 10 years, some of Ireland’s moved loved bird species may vanish from the island altogether.

Some species have seen their numbers plummet by almost 80pc in 25 years.

Species now under greatest threat include the Curlew, the Corncrake, Barn Owl and the Yellowhammer.

Ireland has also witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of seabirds and migratory water fowl in Ireland.

There is mounting evidence that milder winters on the Continent as a consequence of global warming may be directly responsible for the decline.

UCC School of Earth Studies director, Dr John O’Halloran, said it was vital that careful ongoing monitoring of species be maintained alongside planned support measures.

Over 150 Irish and European scientists attended the event which is staged every five years.

The statistics on Irish wild bird populations make for grim reading.

In 1999, 18 bird species were on the ‘red’ or potentially endangered list.

Now, that number has increased to 25 - despite the greatest conservation effort in Irish history.

Ornithologists fear that, without continued and expanded efforts, species will quickly start following the Corn Bunting which has now totally vanished from Ireland.

The study focussed on a total of 199 Irish wild bird species with one-in-eight (25) deemed to face a population threat.

There have been conservation successes particularly in relation to some raptors or birds of prey.

These have been the focus of Ireland’s highest profile conservation programmes.

However, even raptors have been impacted by the decline.

BirdWatch Ireland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) indicated that barn owls, hen harriers, buzzards, long-eared owls and kestrels have suffered significant population declines.

BirdWatch Ireland official, Dr Stephen Newton, said it was a matter of concern that some wild bird numbers seem to be in accelerating decline.

"We will lose many of these birds from our shores if concerted and immediate action is not taken. It is only a few short years since the corn bunting went extinct as a breeding species here. Many others are now in danger of following suit," he said.

"Of particular concern are our seabirds, migratory waterfowl, and farmland birds. Iconic species such as the barn owl, corncrake, curlew and yellowhammer all face an uncertain future."

"However, action to help many of these birds is being put in place by BirdWatch Ireland, the RSPB and Government agencies. We believe that by working together across this island, the problems faced by our most threatened birds can be overcome to allow recovery."

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