A further Irish Wildlife Manual was published recently on the identification of breeding waterbird hotspots in Ireland.
The study aimed to create a hotspot map of breeding waterbird sites in Ireland. It utilises distribution data for breeding waterbirds collated as part of Ireland’s 2019 reporting obligations under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive. A scoring system was developed which comprises waterbird species diversity and a range of scoring parameters derived from conservation status, ecology and social value on a species-by-species basis. The sum of the scores of all breeding waterbird species present within each 10 km square was then applied to a 10 km square grid. This derived a total of 25 sites, a number of which cover more than one 10 km square, and which are ranked in accordance with their total score.
In consideration of the likely challenges for the monitoring, protection and management of these sites in the future, this report provides three primary recommendations for the short term. Firstly, a breeding waterbird sites register should be compiled, including site priority categorisation and clear delineation of site boundaries. Secondly, standardised survey and data collation protocols should be developed for surveying breeding waterbirds at sites. Utilising the products of the previous two recommendations, a breeding waterbird monitoring programme should be implemented, starting with a baseline survey and initially focussing on high priority sites. Given the significant national declines in many breeding waterbird populations, this monitoring programme should also include periodic evaluations of site condition with respect to the ecological requirements of breeding waterbirds, thus assisting with the timely identification of appropriate conservation measures where required”.
The report also explores the fact that while many of the most important wetland sites in Ireland are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs), this is primarily for the wintering waterbird populations they support. Due to the lower densities of waterbirds during the breeding season, the chance of a site meeting designation criteria based on breeding species is low. Traditionally, there has been a dependence that site protections and management for those species present in winter will also support conditions for breeding birds. While this may well be true in some cases, many species likely require fine-scale, species-specific conservation management. The urgency of identifying sites that hold appropriate levels of importance and then applying appropriate protections and, more importantly management interventions to support and maintain the sites and associated species is critical to prevent further loss.