12/07/2014
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New Rural Development Plan offers a lifeline for Irish farmland birds

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BirdWatch Ireland has warmly welcomed the recent announcement by Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney that farmers undertaking actions to conserve critically threatened farmland birds will get priority access to substantial funding within Ireland's new Rural Development Programme. If properly implemented, this offers hope of halting declines and restoring bird populations in parts of their range.

Ireland's biodiversity is facing very severe threats, as evidenced by declining populations of many farmland birds and losses in extent and quality of many semi-natural habitats in the mosaic of Ireland's farmed landscapes. There has been extensive research in the UK, in particular, which has related farmland bird declines to changes in agricultural practices since the 1970s. Specific causes for these changes included a variety of farming practices, including increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, increased mechanisation and losses of hedgerow extent and quality. These changes in agriculture also took place in Ireland over the same period. The new Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (RDP) offers an opportunity to address many issues threatening biodiversity in the wider Irish countryside.

Grey Partridge
Grey Partridge has been under serious threat in Ireland (Photo: Tim James)

Dr Alex Copland, Senior Conversation Officer for BirdWatch Ireland said: "As a group, farmland birds have experienced some of the largest population declines and range contractions of any bird species in Ireland. The causes of these declines have been varied, but many are related to modern agricultural production methods, which leave little room for wildlife. Agri-environment measures, whereby farmers are paid to manage their land in a more environmentally sensitive manner, provide an opportunity to halt and possibly reverse these declines, if properly administered."

Ireland's new RDP for the period 2014-2020 was formally submitted to the European Commission last week. Many farmland bird species that are threatened in Ireland, including Corncrake, Grey Partridge, Hen Harrier, Chough, Twite and breeding waders such as Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank, are given priority status within the draft programme. As farmland birds are flagships for much of our native wildlife, measures to protect them will deliver many other benefits for wider biodiversity.

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Dr Copland added: "While the level of funding to support farmers for these measures is welcome, we would urge Minister Coveney and his Department to ensure that measures are targeted appropriately and sufficient advice is provided to farmers to help deliver them effectively. Although we have yet to see the details of the proposed measures for these species, we very much hope that Ireland could be on its way to delivering on obligations to protect and conserve some of its most charismatic yet threatened wildlife."

A period of negotiation on the exact detail of the RDP is now underway. BirdWatch Ireland will continue to work with fellow environmental NGOs and with officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to ensure the RDP will deliver an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for rural Ireland.

For more on BirdWatch Ireland, visit www.birdwatchireland.ie.

Written by: Hallmann et al.