In the race to save Ireland’s native curlew from extinction, two government departments have announced more funding for vital fieldworkers.
Thousands of visiting curlews spend the winter here, but year-round residents are a much rarer sight. That’s because native curlews have declined by 97% since the 1980s, reaching a low of 122 breeding pairs in 2016. Thankfully, efforts to save this iconic bird are ongoing.
In 2016, the Curlew Task Force was set up by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It brings together government departments, farming organisations and conservation experts so that everyone’s on the same page. Thanks to the task force, the various groups can share vital information and prioritise essential steps.
Another important move in saving Ireland’s favourite wild bird was the establishment of the Curlew Conservation Programme (CCP) in 2017. The fieldworkers it employs each season cover half of the known curlew locations in Ireland. They find nests, help to protect habitats, engage with local farmers and landowners, raise public awareness and even fence off nests to protect the precious chicks from predators.
And while January 2021 seems bleak for most, there’s good news for both the CCP and Ireland’s favourite wild bird. Thanks to extra funding from the Department of Agriculture, the CCP is employing its fieldworkers before the breeding season begins. This means they can do crucial preparation work before the curlews return to their breeding grounds.
Commenting on the good news, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett, said “I am delighted to support this initiative, which allows for people to begin work earlier in the year, because we need people in place now. The pre-season period from mid-January to March is crucial. This early hiring means that in advance of the breeding season, Field Officers will be able to lay the foundations for the year ahead with local landowners and communities.
Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, Malcolm Noonan, welcomed the partnership between his Department and Minister Hackett’s. “I’m heartened to see early signs that the vital collaboration between the Curlew Action Teams, local farmers and communities is already benefitting its conservation. This funding will allow us to strengthen that collaboration and work together to protect this iconic and much-loved bird.”
Link with the Past
On the importance of the native curlew, Minister Noonan said, “it is a link with the wild Ireland of past generations. The farmers and landowners who support our remaining breeding populations of curlew are vital to its future. I hope that this funding will… help to ensure that the beautiful and unique cry of the curlew will continue to be a part of the soundscape of the Irish countryside for many years to come.”
For generations, that beautiful and unique cry has warned fishermen and inspired poets. Folklore advises that fishermen should turn their boats for home should a calling curlew fly overhead. And two of our most beloved poets – WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney – have referenced the cry of the curlew. It is as Irish as Barry’s tea and road frontage. Let’s hope breeding populations go from strength to strength.