Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish native curlew close to extinction

Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30

Endangered: Curlews have been robbed of their habitat in meadows and bogs, with their nests attacked by crows and foxes Photo: Abi Warner
Endangered: Curlews have been robbed of their habitat in meadows and bogs, with their nests attacked by crows and foxes Photo: Abi Warner

That the plaintive cry of the curlew is not now just a fading remembrance of those who have lived longest, or merely a crackly recording gathering dust in the sound archives, is something of a miracle.

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But now it really is approaching endgame for the harbinger of the hay field, along with its preferred breeding ground of rough pasture, bog and meadows. Our farmers have become too productive and the crow and the fox are taking a cruel harvest.

Yeats's evocative He Reproves the Curlew is now as much prophesy as poem: "O curlew, cry no more in the air/ Or only to the water in the West."

And so there is to be one more attempt to save the curlew and its evocative cry. A task force is to be established to save one of Ireland's most threatened breeding bird species.

The Curlew in Crisis workshop took place in Co Westmeath earlier this month and brought together almost 100 scientists and conservationists to examine the crisis facing breeding curlews in Ireland.

Results from a survey funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) over the last two years show that just 130 breeding pairs remain in the Republic and that the species is now facing extinction here within 10 years if emergency action is not taken.

"We hope this voluntary initiative will encourage Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, to find much-needed funds to prevent the imminent extinction of curlews in Ireland," said Dr Anita Donaghy of BirdWatch Ireland.

Most curlews in Ireland nest on bog, but farmland is also a very important nesting habitat for them.

Declines in numbers have been blamed on the loss of bogs, agricultural intensification and predation by foxes and crows. Land abandonment and afforestation are also issues.

Curlews really are home birds and UK research suggests that they remain faithful to the same nesting sites year on year, and so immediate measures to protect known breeding sites must be put in place in advance of the next breeding season in spring 2017.

The Department of Agriculture introduced measures for curlews in the GLAS funding mechanism and farmers, with breeding curlews now having priority access.

However, other measures needed include protection of breeding pairs on bogs and more control of foxes and crows at known sites.

The workshop was initiated by UK-based radio producer and presenter Mary Colwell, who earlier this year walked for 500 miles across Ireland and England to raise awareness of the plight of the curlew.

"The many people I met on my walk showed me how deep the concern is that breeding curlew are fast disappearing from the Irish landscape," she said.

Sunday Independent

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