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Saturday 23 September 2017

Unseasonal rain threatens bleak farming harvests

Aisling Crowe

Rare bird colony also hit by very wet summer

Irish farmers face a summer of strife and hardship caused by the wettest summer for many years.

The persistent rain, which has saturated the country, means crops are rotting in the waterlogged ground and farmers are being forced to house and feed cattle, in scenes reminiscent of deep winter -- not mid July.

Eddie Downey, the vice-president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), said the situation will become critical if the weather does not improve soon.

"If the weather does not pick up we are looking at a bleak harvest. Farmers won't be able to harvest crops because the ground conditions are so bad. If we got a reasonable spell of weather, a lot of work could be done to avert a catastrophe but we are in salvage territory right now."

The effects of this prolonged spell of bad weather on Irish agriculture will be felt into next year. Farmers are experiencing huge difficulties cutting silage and hay which will mean a shortage of food for animals over winter. The grain harvest is threatened by poor ground conditions and diseases caused by the wet weather.

The situation is compounded by weather-related issues facing agriculture globally, which could see a rise in food costs for already over-stretched Irish consumers.

"In northern England and Europe farmers are flooded... and in Poland and America they are burnt out of it. There is a serious shortage of grain and meat in the world and the weather problems could have a major effect on food prices," Mr Downey explained.

Native wildlife is suffering too, with the bird population feeling the effects of the wet summer as chicks and young birds are particularly vulnerable to the harsh weather.

"For the birds who nest later, mortality rates in the nest could be quite high," said Dick Coombes of Birdwatch Ireland.

"April and May were very cold months, followed by wet weather. The nests get sodden with the rain and young birds can't cope with the severe weather. They can develop hypothermia and die."

The full extent of the impact the wet summer has had on the bird population will not be known until the spring.

It is not only the incessant rain that has caused problems for birds. The shingle beach near Kilcoole, in Co Wicklow, is the nesting ground for a colony of rare little terns, but unseasonable storms and high tides over the June bank holiday weekend washed away more than 80 nests. The birds will return to Africa at the end of this month without creating a future generation.

"The breeding pairs tried to re-lay but that was unsuccessful. The whole colony's nests have been wiped out this year. The little tern is quite a rare bird in Ireland, there are only a few hundred breeding pairs in the country. The colonies near Drogheda and Wexford were affected by the storms too," Mr Coombes added.

While the weather forecast remains uncertain, there is a bright spot on the horizon for some Irish birds. Last week it was reported that two white-tailed eagles have been spotted in Connemara for the first time in a century. The pair appear to have made their home in the area around Ballyconneely and Roundstone.

It is believed that the eagles made their way to Connemara from Kerry where the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NWPS) and the Golden Eagle Trust of Ireland are involved in a project in the Killarney National Park to reintroduce eagles to this country. The NWPS has not commented on the sightings of these rare birds in Galway.

Birdwatch Ireland has advised people who are worried about the plight of birds during this prolonged spell of cold, wet weather to stock their bird feeders with plenty of seeds and peanuts to ensure they continue to receive vital supplies of food.

Sunday Independent

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