Minister Noonan welcomes survey data showing positive soundings for the return of the corncrake
Date Released: Friday, August 11, 2023
- 2023 data shows an overall 35% increase in the population of corncrakes in Ireland over the past five years
- A total of 218 corncrake breeding territories were recorded in 2023, up by 10% on 2022 and exceeding 200 for the first time in a decade.
- First sighting of a corncrake in over twenty-five years reported on the Aran Islands
- The involvement of the farming community is key to success, with 250 farmers and landowners now managing close to 1500 hectare of lands for corncrakes.
New data released today shows that efforts to increase the population of the corncrake in the west and north of Ireland appear to be paying off. The latest survey from the National Parks and Wildlife Service shows an increase of 35% in the corncrake population in the past five years. The numbers of corncrakes recorded in the core breeding areas of Donegal, Mayo and Galway have increased by 15% since 2022.
Corncrakes are shy and secretive farmland birds. Their distinctive call is a feature of the north and west coasts of Ireland. The corncrake is listed on the Red list of Conservation Concern, given significant decreases in both numbers and range in Ireland and other European countries. Since 2021, the Corncrake/Traonach LIFE Project, a five-year project funded through the EU and co-ordinated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been working on a number of measures to prevent the decline of the corncrake. Data about the corncrake population is gathered on an annual basis.
Responding to the survey findings, Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, said:
“It’s fantastic to see that biodiversity action for the iconic corncrake is working. The increase from 161 to 218 birds in just five years is remarkable and a testament to the hard work and commitment of so many, not least the farmers and communities at the heart of the effort. This demonstrates that the collaborative approach being championed by the Corncrake LIFE team and the NPWS Corncrake Conservation Programme is not only effective, but welcomed.”
“While the future of the birds is not yet secure, my commitment to continue the conservation efforts beyond the term of the LIFE project, and the strong collaboration between NPWS and the new Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ACRES Cooperation projects, will help to ensure this legacy continues in the longer term.”
“As this project has shown, the NPWS is committed to working in cooperation with landowners across our protected area network to deliver for both people and nature.”
Corncrake conservation measures involve pre-emptive planning with farmers in the breeding areas primarily on the north and west coast, as well as reactive measures where birds establish in new locations. Data from the project shows a number of measures which are effective in improving the bird’s habitat. For example, the creation of large patches of nettles or crops for them to hide in and delaying grass mowing into mid-August enable them to raise broods of chicks in safety. Studies show that mowing fields from the ‘centre–out’ rather than from the ‘outside- in’ can reduce chick mortality by up to 60%. Agricultural contractors are key as they have the skills and knowledge to ensure that the birds are not harmed during harvesting time.
Targeted grants and schemes can act as incentives for the farming community to protect the birds and give them a chance to rear their young. As the birds spread their wings into new areas around Ireland, the NPWS and the LIFE project are working together to ensure that supports are widely available to the farming community. New developments include a ‘corncrake habitat scorecard’ to inform a results based scheme for farmers operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Ciaran Reaney who co-ordinates the NPWS Corncrake Conservation Programme said
“We are now seeing the birds expand their range into new areas in Sligo and Kerry as well as areas outside the core LIFE project sites. This is great news and even better that NPWS has the supports in place to grow the success of the LIFE project work and make potential actions for the birds available to more farmers.”
“This summer we had a corncrake on the Aran Islands in Co. Galway for the first time in over 25 years and the farmers on the island couldn’t have been more helpful. I think people have a real grá for the corncrake and want to hear it back in our landscape.”
Dr. John Carey who manages the Corncrake LIFE project and oversees the NPWS Corncrake Programme said:
“Factors such as predation risk management, knowledge exchange events with advisors and farmers, and building good relationships with local communities have been really important. For many years corncrake conservation was launched into action when birds arrived home in April, but now our team works year round thanks to funding from the NPWS and the EU-LIFE programme. This means we have stronger and more consistent relationships with farmers and communities. Communication on the ground is excellent, with our field staff, farmers and contractors operating in close cooperation at all times. It’s a well-oiled machine, and can only get better with more resourcing. Conservation of farmland birds like corncrake needs to mirror farming practices- and farming is all year round.”
The NPWS has now committed to ensuring the positive actions of the Corncrake LIFE project can continue when the project comes to its conclusion at the end of 2025. Niall O'Donnchu, Director General, National Parks and Wildlife Service said:
“The Corncrake LIFE project is an inspiring and successful model for the delivery of conservation measures and community engagement with farmers and landowners. In 2022, the NPWS made a commitment to the long-term delivery of these actions and we will be fully supporting the continuation of the Corncrake LIFE project post-2025. The project will be incorporated into the NPWS Corncrake programme, funded through NPWS Nature Conservation and led by a dedicated team. What we are now seeing is the development of an excellent example of a systemic and integrated approach to conservation measures as part of the Ireland’s delivery of its obligations under the EU Nature Directives.”
Dr. John Carey says the project has gone from strength to strength:
“Between the LIFE project and the NPWS conservation measures programme there are now over 250 farmers and landowners managing close to 1500 hectare of lands for corncrakes. A huge debt of gratitude has to go out to all the farmers, advisors, contractors and members of the local communities who work with us across Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway and Kerry. This success really belongs to them, and they deserve it having put in such a monumental effort. Hopefully 2024 will see even more birds return home to the west of Ireland and the remarkable call of the corncrake continue to be a part of the sound of the summer.”