A task force of key stakeholders is to be set up immediately to protect the Curlew, one of Ireland’s most threatened breeding bird species. This was one of the main actions which arose out of the Curlew in Crisis workshop, which took place in Co Westmeath on Friday 4th November.
The workshop brought together almost 100 scientists and conservationists from across Ireland and the UK to discuss the crisis facing breeding Curlew in Ireland. Results from a survey funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) over the last two years show that just 130 breeding pairs of this bird remain in the Republic of Ireland and that the species is now facing extinction here within the next 10 years if emergency action is not taken.
“We hope that this voluntary initiative will encourage Minister Humphreys [the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs] to find much needed funds to prevent the imminent extinction of Curlew in Ireland,” said Dr Anita Donaghy of BirdWatch Ireland. “We would also reiterate our call for the Minister and her department to produce a dedicated action plan aimed at halting Curlew declines as a matter of extreme urgency.”
Most Curlew in Ireland nest on bogland, but farmland is also a very important nesting habitat for them. Declines in the numbers of this iconic bird have mostly been driven mostly by the loss of bogs, agricultural intensification and predation by foxes and crows. Land abandonment and afforestation are also issues. Research from the UK shows that Curlew strongly tend to remain faithful to the same nesting sites year-on-year, and therefore immediate measures to protect known breeding sites must be put in place in advance of the next breeding season in spring 2017. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine (DAFM) have introduced measures for Curlew in GLAS and farmers with breeding Curlew now have priority access. However, some of the other measures needed include protection of breeding pairs on bogs and more control of foxes and crows at known sites.
The workshop was initiated by UK-based radio producer and presenter Mary Colwell, who earlier this year walked for 500 miles across Ireland and England to raise awareness of the plight of the Curlew. With assistance from BirdWatch Ireland and UCD and funding from NPWS and the Heritage Council, the workshop heard talks from experts and held discussions and problem-solving sessions, the results of which will form the basis of action over short and medium term.
“The many people I met on my walk showed me how deep the concern is that breeding Curlew are fast disappearing from the Irish landscape”, said Mary. “We will shortly be holding a similar workshop in England; the lesson from Ireland is that if we ignore the declines that are also happening in the UK, the situation could become critical, as it unfortunately has in Ireland.”