€3m to feather nests of grouse pays off
THE number of red grouse in a Co Mayo beauty spot has been doubled, at a cost of €3m in compensation payments to farmers.
Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan welcomed a huge increase in numbers of the threatened bird in the Owenduff/Neffin area, up from around 400 in 2002 to more than 800 now.
The resurgence in their numbers has come about after farmers were required to remove sheep from the upland habitat of the birds and join environmental schemes – in return for compensation amounting to €3m since 2006.
This came about after the European Court of Justice took a case against Ireland in relation to its failure to protect the habitat of the red grouse.
Ironically, it was EU subsidies for sheep, under the Common Agricultural Policy, which led to the rise in sheep numbers in the 1980s and 90s, that put pressure on the distinctive bird's grazing habitat.
Its numbers had plummeted by 66pc since the late 1960s, according to bird atlases.
However, surveys show that the numbers in the Owenduff/Nephin complex rose from between 362 and 426 in 2002, to between 790 and 832 a decade later.
This followed the area's designation as a Natura 2000 nature protection zone, with large numbers of sheep being removed from commonage areas.
Mr Deenihan said the survey "shows us that grouse numbers can improve quickly when we take steps that allow their habitats to recover".