Rapid decline could make curlew extinct in Ireland in decade

A A A

The curlew, the wetland wader with the decurved bill and haunting call, has almost vanished from Ireland in a mere 20 years, in one of the most dramatic declines ever recorded for a bird in the British Isles.

From a breeding population estimated at 5,000 pairs in 1991, the Irish curlew's numbers have dropped to fewer than 200 pairs today, which if the estimates are correct would represent a staggering decline of more than 96 per cent. It is feared than in another decade the bird could be extinct.

"Everything points to a decline which is truly catastrophic," said Anita Donaghy of Birdwatch Ireland, who led a survey of curlew numbers this spring. "We could hardly believe the results we were getting."

The survey looked at 60 sites which previously held curlews in Donegal and Mayo and found that only six of them were occupied – with a total of only eight pairs, four in Mayo and four in Donegal.

Recently completed fieldwork for the new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Britain and Ireland, which will be published in 2013, shows how much the range of the bird has shrunk since the last version of the book was published 20 years ago.

In Britain, where it is still fairly numerous, the curlew's range – defined as the number of 10km grid squares in which it is recorded breeding – has contracted by 14 per cent over the period. In Ireland the contraction is 61 per cent, and this year's BirdWatch Ireland survey looked at total numbers rather than range, where the decline is seen as greater still.

Dr Donaghy said observations indicated that changes in land use were behind the drastic drop. Curlews nest in damp, rushy pastures and on open moorland, using their long, curved bills to probe for food in soft, wet areas along ditches or in shallow pools where their chicks can easily find insect food.

But these sorts of areas, once common in Ireland, are disappearing with developments such as the commercial extraction of peat from bogs, the planting of forests, more intensive management of grasslands and even the construction of wind farms, Dr Donaghy said. While there were no actual studies showing that wind farms had a negative effect, it was unlikely that curlews would breed in their vicinity, she said.

BirdWatch Ireland is running its Cry of the Curlew Appeal to put protection measures in place. "Our research has shown that the curlew breeding population is in an even more perilous state than we thought," its chief executive, Alan Lauder, said. "Unfortunately the remaining funds are not adequate to take the action needed to identify the remaining pairs and put measures in place to protect them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project