Corncrake numbers on the increase in the midlands


The decline of the corncrake, one of Ireland's most threatened species of bird, has been halted in the midlands, it emerged this week.

Following two years when only 54 calling males were recorded on the Shannon Callows, the floodlands along the river, BirdWatch Ireland workers have now recorded 68-70 birds.

"This is fantastic news. The number of birds had stabilised over the past two years but to find an increase is marvellous," Ms Catherine Casey of BirdWatch Ireland said this week.

"We have counted between 68 and 70 calling males, and we are delighted with that. It may indicate that the population is on the increase," she said.

"We do not know why this increase has happened, but it is likely to be linked with the special measures put in place to protect the habitat for the birds," she said.

These measures include compensating the Callows farmers for leaving the harvesting of their hay until after August 1st to allow the birds to nest.

When farmers are harvesting their hay they are also paid for cutting their meadows from the centre outwards to ensure the young corncrakes can escape the harvesting machines.

Ms Casey says that nearly 80 per cent of the farmers who have corncrakes on their lands in the Callows take part in the scheme, which gives them £90 per hectare for corncrake-friendly farming.

"We are elated with the news of the increase in numbers and we hope that the numbers will continue to grow and that the farmers will still be able to harvest their hay," she said.

Ms Anne-Marie McDevitt, the corncrake co-ordinating officer on the Shannon Callows, described the increase in the numbers as "brilliant".

There were mixed reports from the rest of the country, with a decline in the numbers recorded in Donegal from 77 to 62, even though numbers on the islands of Tory and Inisbofin remained stable.

Perhaps the best news of all is that the corncrake has returned to the remote island of Iniskea South, off the north Mayo coast, after an absence of 15 years.

Two calling males were recorded there, probably because in a habitat management agreement with island farmers 15 acres of land suitable for corncrakes were fenced off to exclude sheep.

This would seem to indicate that proper habitat management will encourage the return of the bird to traditional breeding areas.