The Irish Times view on endangered birds: a red warning signal

The collapse of bird populations is the direct, if unintended, result of public policies and private actions

An all-island review shows that a quarter of bird species surveyed are now in deep trouble, with a net 17 added to the ‘red list’ since 2013. Photograph: John Holden

An all-island review shows that a quarter of bird species surveyed are now in deep trouble, with a net 17 added to the ‘red list’ since 2013. Photograph: John Holden

 

Birds, especially birdsong, enjoyed an exceptionally high national profile during the first lockdown. Many people became entranced with the suddenly more audible spring chorus, and commented on the resilience this unaccustomed exposure to the natural world brought them.

This new awareness should encourage a meaningful public and policy response to the disturbing report by BirdWatch Ireland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. An all-island review shows that a quarter of bird species surveyed are now in deep trouble, with a net 17 added to the ‘red list’ since 2013.

While some of these birds, like the ring ouzel, are unfamiliar to most people, others are species that any adult might assume to be common, as they were quite recently. It is surely a sharp shock to learn that the kestrel, the puffin, and the curlew (as a breeding bird) are now endangered.

This decline has implications well beyond bird-watching circles. It is a red warning signal from our environment, reminding us yet again that our fate is directly linked to the biodiversity and climate crises – the latter impacting the former, and vice versa.

The collapse of bird populations is the direct, if unintended, result of public policies and private actions, destroying habitats across the country and accelerating global heating.

Ireland and the EU are already committed to developing natural capital accounts, creating a common metric that reveals the full costs – and benefits – of policies across government and economic sectors. It is now urgent to prepare such accounts and be guided by them, enabling us to develop a truly sustainable economy. We continue to ignore the feedback from the environment at our peril. The good news is that, where we have restored bogs and woodlands, endangered species have flourished again, carbon is sequestered, and the green island we market internationally becomes a happy reality. We just need to do this much more widely, and much more quickly.

What are we waiting for?

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