Although the global population is considered stable, in Ireland the corncrake is a species of high conservation concern due to long-term declines.

The population of corncrakes in Ireland has been monitored annually since 1993 – by recording how many male birds are calling at night-time – and is critically low, with 151 calling males recorded in 2018.

Donegal remains the national stronghold, with 90 confirmed calling males. West Connacht, which comprises the western seaboards of counties Mayo and Galway, held 59 males, while two calling males were recorded in Co. Sligo.

This is according to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan – who was speaking during Dáil proceedings last week – after she was asked by deputy Bernard Durkan the extent to which corncrake numbers still exist at specific sites nationally and what the preservation actions in place, or proposed, are in this regard.

Restoring population

The minister, meanwhile, pointed to how the “restoration of the corncrake population” is an important component of her department’s overall work on species protection.

Measures to protect the corncrake include the designation of nine Special Areas of Protection (SPA) for the protection of breeding corncrake populations in Ireland.

She continued: “The offshore islands, particularly off Donegal, are of critical importance. Conservation measures in 2018 included habitat management and the administration of grant schemes to promote beneficial land management for the species.”

Creating and managing habitat

Minister Madigan then pointed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Farm Plan Scheme for corncrakes, which, she added, “offers incentives to landowners to create and manage habitat for corncrakes”.

“Landowners nominate plots they would like to work on, and receive payment for, habitat creation and putting management measures in place for corncrake,” she added.

“In 2018, there were 10 farmers in the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme delivering 63.52ha of habitat for corncrake.

The NPWS also operates the Corncrake Grant Scheme (CGS), where landowners, who have corncrake calling on or near their land, receive a grant for adopting corncrake friendly mowing practices.

“In 2018, 125 participants entered the CGS covering an area 352.78ha nationally.

“Following decades of decline, the breeding population of corncrakes has stabilised, albeit at low numbers.

“My department will continue to work with farmers and landowners towards the conservation of this species in Ireland and I look forward to seeing improved population numbers as a result of these measures.”