August 10th, 2023
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, with the numbers of corncrakes recorded in the core breeding areas of Donegal, Mayo and Galway having increased by 15% in the last year.
Corncrakes are shy and secretive farmland birds, often heard but not seen, and 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, and data about the corncrake population is gathered on an annual basis.
It’s just fantastic to see that this concerted effort is paying off, and 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 who are 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 by people. Whenever I meet people involved in this project I'm struck by the genuine affection people have for this bird, and how much their signature 'crex crex' sound is missed across the Irish countryside.
Furthermore, the corncrake is increasing its range into new areas in Sligo and Kerry, and this summer we had a corncrake on the Aran Islands in Co. Galway for the first time in over 25 years. This is fantastic news, and the NPWS has the supports in place to build on this, grow the success of the LIFE project work, and make potential actions for the birds available to more farmers.
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. For many years corncrake conservation was launched into action when birds arrived home in April, but now the team works year-round on core measures such as predation risk management, knowledge exchange events with advisors and farmers, and building good relationships with local communities.
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.
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, and I know the NPWS is committed to fully supporting the continuation of the Corncrake LIFE project post-2025. 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.