THE State is to spend over €130,000 this year to halt and reverse the decline of breeding wader birds in one of the country's most important wetlands.
The Department of Arts and Heritage has confirmed that €60,000 of the €134,000 spend in the Shannon Callows has been earmarked for farmers while the remainder is being spent on administrative costs.
The Shannon Callows is regarded as one of the most remarkable wetland areas in Ireland -- it starts immediately south of Athlone and stretches for 50km as far as Portumna in Co Galway.
The Callows are home to several breeding waders including the dunlin and golden plover.
According to the Department of Arts and Heritage, the Callows "was first surveyed for breeding waders in 1987 when high breeding numbers of lapwing, snipe, curlew and redshank were recorded. A follow up survey in 2002 revealed significant reductions of between 68pc and 83pc in the breeding numbers of these species".
The department has contracted Birdwatch Ireland to implement the Middle Shannon Breeding Waders Grant Scheme this year.
A spokesman said: "Various species of waders breeding in Ireland are now at historically low levels and direct intervention is required to halt and reverse the declines."
He pointed out that Government is bound by the EU Birds Directive to maintain the populations of wild birds "and as such Ireland has to take the requisite measures to preserve and maintain sufficient suitable habitat for these species".
On the €60,000 being allocated to farmers to participate in the scheme, the spokesman said: "It makes most sense to work with the farmers of the area to ensure that conditions are right for these species of birds to remain part of Ireland's natural heritage".
The department states that the agri-environment initiative, the grant scheme promotes a style of farming on the Callows that would be compatible with the needs of these breeding birds along with targeted predator control.
The department spokesman said that as a result of the scheme and other initiatives "the overall severe decline of breeding waders in the targeted areas has been halted and that some of the managed sites have started to show increases".
He said: "Adherence to these prescriptions essentially restrict the farmers' activities [during crucial seasons for the birds] and as such a payment scheme had to be put into operation in order to ensure an adequate level of uptake by farmers."