A WHOPPING €200,000 is to be spent surveying birds and frogs despite the economic crisis.
The Herald can reveal that the Department of Environment has signed off on three new bird-watching surveys to the value of €128,000, on top of the €70,000 already sanctioned for a frog study.
The shocking figures have been met with disgust by opposition parties who say counting birds and frogs at a time of economic crisis is "nonsense".
In recent days, officials in John Gormley's department have handed out three separate contracts to survey the numbers and activities of merlins, hen harriers and kingfishers.
Birdwatch Ireland has been awarded two of the contracts, while ecologist Dr Geoff Oliver from Skibbereen is to "monitor productivity of hen harriers".
It has previously been reported that €70,000 was splashed out for a study that will provide an "up-to-date understanding of frog distribution". Fine Gael's Michael Ring described the expenditure as "outrageous when we are in the worst economic situation since the foundation of the State".
"We just can't afford this nonsense," he told the Herald.
"People can't get hip operations or heart operations and we're spending money on this nonsense," fumed the Mayo TD. "We simply can't afford it."
The kingfisher survey is to cost €55,936 over the course of the upcoming breeding season. The four-month contract will see Birdwatch Ireland study "a selection of river corridors" so that the department can decide which ones to designate as special protection areas.
The merlin pilot breeding survey, issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service has an estimated value of €35,700 and will cover the areas of Donegal, Roscommon, Galway and Wicklow. The merlin is an Irish bird of prey, feeding mainly on small birds and is the smallest type of falcon. Meanwhile a further €36,204 is expected to be spent on monitoring the productivity of hen harrier sites in the Slieve Aughties SPA, Co Clare and Galway.
There is currently a joint project under way between National Parks and Wildlife Service, Irish Raptor Study Group, University College Cork and COFORD, where hen harriers are tagged to follow their movements and breeding patterns to identify much needed information for the conservation of the bird of prey.
While Mr Ring said the thinking behind the projects might be well-meaning, the surveys are "a luxury we can't afford".
The nationwide frog counting survey will be carried out by Bohola-based ecologists Dr Karina Dingerkus and her husband Dr Richard Stone, as well as scientists from Queen's University in Belfast, National Parks and Wildlife officers, and the UK-based Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.