BIRD SPECIES ACROSS IRELAND FACING POPULATION DECIMATION
BirdWatch Ireland have said that a combination of government inaction, climate change and intensive farming has left Ireland facing ‘dramatic’ bird population losses. This week, student environmental scientist and nature lover Patrick Gleeson takes a look at what is happening to two distinctive birds of the Irish countryside and how their fate is linked to threats to our natural world
There is no sound more symbolic to the arrival of summer than the swift. Its high-pitched screeching and jet like flight is familiar over Irish towns and villages from May onwards. The Swift (Gabhán Gaoithe) spends the winter months in Africa where it fills up on insects in order to get into pristine condition just in time for the breeding season. Returning to Ireland, they nest in holes and crevices of buildings. They are a bird long associated with built structures and human settlements; however, it wasn’t always this way.
Swifts can be seen nesting in small crevices in the tops of ancient trees in the primeval forest of Bialowieza in Poland as well as in old Scots Pine trees in the Caledonian pine forest in Scotland. This would have been a common sight in Ireland’s ancient forests that once covered most of the country. Swifts are an interesting bird as they rarely land. They feed, mate and sleep in the air and only land when nesting.
However, Swifts like many of Ireland’s bird species are in trouble. Recent trends show that their numbers are falling. The loss of suitable nesting sites is believed to be the main reason but falling insect numbers may also be playing a part. The traditional nesting sites are being lost as old cracks and crevices are being filled in and most new builds do not provide these areas. This can be remedied however by putting up swift boxes. These nest boxes can be placed on the eaves of buildings and can be ideal on houses as the Swifts leave no droppings underneath. These boxes are easy to install and for more information visit swiftconservation.ie.
As the Swifts call once filled the skies of Irish towns, the Curlew’s call on the other hand was once a common sound in the Irish countryside. There is nothing like hearing the sound of the Curlew being carried over Irish bogland. The Curlew has suffered severe declines recently with the Irish breeding population falling by 97%. People may be surprised to see large flocks at the coast during winter months, however most of these are overwintering Scandinavian birds and the Irish population has been decimated due to habitat loss. The loss of the once vast bogs of the Midlands, the intensification of agriculture and afforestation has meant that suitable nesting habitats have become very fragmented. It is essential to locate any remaining pairs and protect their nests. The loss of the Curlew in Ireland is a reflection of the loss of species worldwide. The Irish Curlew could be gone within the decade and will more than likely be followed by others.
A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
Drastic action is needed to protect biodiversity worldwide. We need to change how we manage the land, what we buy and what we eat. We need to move away from a world where markets know best. This is currently leading to overconsumption and the destruction of the planets fragile ecosystems. Natural solutions to both the biodiversity crisis and climate change are available. By restoring and rewilding large tracts of land and allowing our forests and wetlands to come back, we will not just provide a sanctuary for wildlife, but we will also create huge carbon sinks that lock away some of the excess carbon in the atmosphere. To save our farmland species less intensive farming methods should be implemented. More High Nature Value farming should be encouraged where farmers are rewarded for their actions that help biodiversity. It is not impossible to have a countryside full of Corncrakes again someday. With a growing population, the pressures on the natural world are enormous but the solutions are out there. They just need to be implemented.