On World Curlew Day today (Wednesday, April 21), BirdWatch Ireland has said that the curlew is a “symbol of successive government failure” to protect Ireland’s bird species.

Experts on farmland birds, waterbirds and seabirds from BirdWatch Ireland are meeting Ministers of State Malcolm Noonan and Pippa Hackett to discuss alarming wild bird declines, and to tell them “they must seize the moment to turn around the fate of so many species”.

Last week, BirdWatch Ireland and RSPB Northern Ireland jointly published the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland 2020-2026 list.

Using a traffic-light system, it reviewed the conservation status of 211 regularly occurring bird species in Ireland. The findings revealed a 46% increase in the number of bird species on the Red List, the highest threat category, since the last review in 2013.

Altogether 63% of bird species on the island of Ireland are now in serious trouble, a “truly shameful and unacceptable situation that must urgently be addressed by government”.

BirdWatch Ireland said that the “catastrophic declines of farmland birds, especially breeding waders like the curlew and the lapwing”, are a consequence of “successive agriculture and forestry policies which have prioritised intensification and afforestation at the cost of homes for biodiversity”.

‘Tipping point’ for Ireland’s bird species

Dr. Anita Donaghy, head of species and land management with BirdWatch Ireland, said that they are still waiting on government to implement the recommendations of the Curlew Task Force published in 2019.

“We have reached a tipping point in the future of many of our wild bird populations,” Dr. Donaghy said.

“The declines in the kestrel, the beautiful and formerly common farmland bird of prey that hovers while hunting rodents, are grave. They indicate that our countryside is becoming ever more inhospitable for nature.

“This must be resolved in Agri-Food Strategy 2030, the CAP strategic plan and in the forestry programme for once and for all.

“Successive governments have targeted funding on intensification and forestry premia, and much less so at supporting farmers to save the habitats of threatened species on their farms.”

Oonagh Duggan, BirdWatch Ireland’s head of advocacy, said that failure to adequately fund the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has “hindered species and habitat conservation at every level”.

“Government ambitions to meet climate targets can be supported by ambitious restoration of habitats, but significantly increased staff numbers and funding is required within the NPWS so it can be fit for purpose for this task,” Duggan added.

Curlew Conservation Programme

In January, Green Party Ministers Pippa Hackett and Malcolm Noonan announced the recruitment of 30 contractors to work with the Curlew Conservation Programme around the country.

The Curlew Conservation Programme, which finds and supports curlew to rear their young chicks, is now in its fifth season.

It was established by the NPWS in 2017, with the Department of Agriculture coming on board as partners in 2020. The joint funding package this year will amount to €500,000.