Celtic Tiger helped corncrake comeback

Killed off: The Corncrake
Killed off: The Corncrake

THE corncrake is an iconic and once widespread bird which has all but disappeared from Irish shores after being driven to the brink of extinction by modern farming techniques.

But hopes the corncrake might have a brighter future in this country have been boosted by a new festival dedicated to the endangered species, which is taking place this weekend on one of our most remote islands.

Inishbofin, Co Galway, is this weekend hosting its inaugural Corncrake Festival, an event aiming to raise awareness of the plight of the elusive species in Ireland, while also allowing visitors to hear and catch a glimpse of the secretive birds in one of the only habitats where they are still thriving.

The distinctively loud call of the corncrake was once a familiar sound throughout rural Ireland, but the intenstification and mechanisation of farming has all but driven the birds from these shores, with the exception of a handful of western seaboard areas and several offshore islands, most notably Inishbofin.

Last year, Birdwatch Ireland estimated that only 151 breeding pairs remained in Ireland, while the species has vanished from areas where it was once abundant.

But Inishbofin has bucked the trend and has seen numbers increase, with 18 calling males reported last year. And as the island hosts its first corncrake festival, visitors have been assured they will see and hear the bird in its natural habitats.

Ornithologist Anthony McGeehan, who will lead walks to the island's corncrake habitats over the weekend, said Inishbofin was a fitting place to host a festival dedicated to the species. McGeehan, from Bangor, Co Down, said: "Even in Inishbofin they did become extinct around the turn of the century, and it was only the Celtic Tiger that helped them recover. New holiday homes and septic tanks were put up, and these produced the nettle beds where the birds settled."

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