09/02/2018
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Irish Corncrake decline continues

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BirdWatch Ireland has expressed concern at recently published figures on the status of Corncrake in the country.

The alarming figures, released by the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), reveal that the breeding population of Irish Corncrakes has fallen for the third summer running, with the 2017 total of 140 pairs well down on the peak of 230 in 2014.

"Several factors can influence the number of Corncrakes recorded in a given year, such as a cold, wet spring leading to birds not calling as frequently," said Dr Anita Donaghy of BirdWatch Ireland. "In this respect, it is important to examine the longer-term trend. Given that this is the third year in a row in which the population has declined, both nationally and in Co Donegal, one of the key strongholds, there is definitely cause for concern."

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Corncrakes arrive in Ireland in mid-April, having spent the winter in Africa. They utter their distinctive, rasping crex-crex call (which gives them their scientific name, too) from the cover of long grass, often during hours of darkness in May and June. Once common all over rural Ireland, the species is now confined to mainly to the coastal areas of Counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway. The Irish government has implemented conservation measures for Corncrake in these areas in recent years, for example through the Corncrake Grant Scheme run by NPWS and the Department of Agriculture's Green Low Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS).  

However, the downward population trend shows that more targeted measures may be needed, particularly the creation of new areas of early-growing plant cover to provide vital shelter for the species when it arrives in spring, before grass in meadows has grown tall enough to shelter them. 

"These figures clearly show that the Irish Government needs to maintain and increase its efforts to save this [species], one of Ireland's most loved yet most endangered farmland birds," concluded Dr Donaghy.