High hopes cranes will breed in Ireland again after 300 years

Pair nesting in midlands bog may be key to revival of species

A pair of cranes are nesting on a rewetted bog in the Midlands, Bord na Móna has confirmed. If they successfully breed, it is believed they will be the first common cranes to do so in Ireland for 300 years.

The nest is at a secret location where two previous breeding attempts, in 2019 and last year, were made but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Though cranes have been extinct in Ireland since the 1700s, there have been increased sightings of them in Irish skies in recent years during migration and overwintering. This has been largely due to conservation work in the UK, which has seen their numbers there rise from zero in the 1970s to more than 200 now.

There has been no evidence yet of successful breeding attempts on this island despite the sightings, Bord na Móna’s lead ecologist Mark McCorry said.


“Pairs of common cranes usually take several years to successfully fledge,” he said. “This is why this sighting is particularly significant. Not only are we actually seeing these birds nesting in Ireland for the first time in 300 years, but we are very optimistic that this third attempt may yield the first crane born here in centuries.”

The crane is deeply connected to the culture and history of Ireland, with the bird central to folklore tales such as Fionn MacCumhaill; the druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells. Their Gaelic name – corr – can be founded in many place names, such as the Curragh in Kildare which means "crane meadow".

Popular pet

They were even kept as pets, and records show they were the third most popular pet in medieval times.

“Unfortunately, they were also a popular food item for people at the time, and their ease of capture by foxes, and draining of wetlands, resulted in their demise sometime between 1600 and 1700,” Mr McCorry added.

The location of the nest, on a cutaway bog once used to harvest peat for energy production, is confidential to protect the birds.

“Crane nests float amongst emergent wetland vegetation such as reeds,” Mr McCorry said. “It is obvious, then, as wetlands disappeared, then so would they. But thanks to the ongoing work by Bord na Móna, we are in with a chance once again of seeing these majestic birds breed and thrive in Ireland.”

Birdwatch Ireland spokeswoman Oonagh Duggan said it was "exciting to think" that cranes may naturally recolonise in Ireland.

“If we rewet bogs, it could be so exciting for a lot of different species. It’s an opportunity to return the land to the birds who lost out. They are voting with their wings. The conditions are right,” she added.

How rewetting commercial peatlands is managed will be critically important, she underlined, especially in the context of wind farm development and biomass production.

Bord na Móna has ceased peat production and is using its land bank for renewable energy, carbon storage and recycling. It has already rehabilitated nearly 20,000 hectares of bogs, resulting in the return of indigenous flora and fauna to large tracts of the countryside.

Last year the company also announced that 33,000 hectares is to be rehabilitated as part of its Peatlands Climate Action Scheme that will operate with €108 million in Government funding and €18 million from Bord na Móna.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times