'Millions' needed to save Ireland's farmland birds


BirdWatch Ireland has written to Irish Ministers McConalogue, Hackett and Noonan calling for them to find €17 million to put in place a robust national scheme to support farmers and save threatened farmland birds.

BirdWatch Ireland has identified that a scheme funded by at least €30 million is required to implement agri-environmental schemes and other key measures which help farmers to preserve populations of Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing and other iconic farmland birds from extirpation in Ireland. In this regard the Irish Government is found wanting, as to date it has only secured €13 million in Ireland's Common Agriculture Policy Strategic Plan, split between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy at Birdwatch Ireland said: "The budget for farming in the next CAP is €9.8 billion yet a mere €6 million of this has been allocated to pay farmers to protect and restore farmland for curlew and other breeding waders, the most threatened of our farmland bird species. This is not even one-sixth of a percentage point of the available funds, while €1.25 billion is allocated to the Area for Natural Constraints scheme yet it has no linkage with environmental action. And the €1.5-billion eco-scheme is very weak on environmental ambition.

"Coupled with the right policies, the breeding wader scheme is one which can deliver real results if properly funded. Farmers want to act for nature but need the funding to enable them to do so. We call on Ministers McConalogue, Noonan and Hackett to work together to secure the additional €17 million needed to ensure a robust national breeding wader scheme is in the next CAP. We know that conservation actions work, but political will and investment is urgently needed to fund these actions before it is too late.

Waders such as Northern Lapwing continue to decline at an alarming pace across Ireland (Nigel Gardener).

"Agriculture policy has played a significant role in driving the losses of bird species like curlew and lapwing, and funds must be found in Ireland's budget for the Common Agriculture Policy to stop these declines and reverse them. If these species go extinct in Ireland, costly reintroduction plans will be required and no one wants to be in that position. The time to invest in our natural heritage is now.

"Farm schemes for waders, also have benefits for other threatened ground nesting birds, including Eurasian Skylark and Meadow Pipit, insects including pollinators, species-rich and High Nature Value grasslands. These sustainable agricultural systems, contribute to improving water quality, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and support a healthier agri-environment overall. We know that conservation actions work but political will and investment is needed to fund these actions."

Recently the European Commission sent a letter to the Irish Government stating that its approval of Ireland's Common Agriculture Policy Strategic Plan and its budget of €9.8 billion in citizens' funding hinges on a significant ramp-up in environmental ambition. The necessary measures include reversal of farmland biodiversity loss, effectively tackling polluted waterways and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. However, BirdWatch Ireland analysis shows that only 7% of the overall budget will result in effective action for the environment, with the rest going to fund measures that are not targeted enough to secure environmental improvements. They are also relying on farm advisory service providers who are not adequately trained when it comes to the necessary ecological, water quality or climate mitigation skills.

Oonagh Duggan continued: "CAP public funds should be redirected to pay for public benefits on farmland. Farmers desperately want to act on climate, water quality and biodiversity loss and should be supported to do so. It is outrageous that so little funding is allocated to these and that schemes are not designed to ensure quality outcomes."

One of the objectives of the CAP is that agriculture funds must contribute to reversing the losses of farmland birds. BirdWatch Ireland has mapped out where these species need help and Ireland's CAP Strategic Plan is not doing anywhere near enough to meet this objective.