MKO were appointed by Clare County Council on behalf of the steering group for the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan (SIFP) for the Shannon Estuary 2013-2020, an inter-jurisdictional land and marine-based framework to guide the future development and management of the Estuary, to carry out a large-scale bird usage survey of the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA) to provide the required level of geospatial data on bird populations present for use in the planning and assessments of strategic development within the estuary, and in particular within the SPA.

This survey represents the most comprehensive waterbird survey of the River Shannon and Fergus Estuaries ever completed, with coverage of 85% of the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries SPA and all the tidal habitat within Areas of Opportunity, and adjacent to Strategic Development Locations, identified within the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan. Co-ordinated counts were carried out between May 2017 and April 2018, with five counts carried out at high tide and six counts carried out at low tide. The count methodology was based on that used for the NPWS’ 2010/11 Waterbird Survey Programme (WSP) counts of the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries.

Due to the size and complexity of the SPA, it has proven difficult in the past to complete a full and comprehensive survey of the entire SPA.  However, MKO’s experience in designing, scoping, co-ordinating and resourcing surveys, in particular for the wind energy industry, facilitated the organisation of this large-scale survey project. A total of 19 surveyors carried out 1,181.4 hours of survey over the elven rounds of survey within 87 subsites covering an area of 312.85km2 (78.58km2 intertidal habitat). During the survey a total of 70 species were recorded, including all 21 Special Conservation Interest (SCI) species of the River Shannon and River Fergus SPA with 243,786 individual birds observed and counted. The total number of waterbird species recorded across all subsites ranged from 53 species in October to 28 species in June. More than 20,000 waterbirds occurred during the winter of 2017/2018, with the numbers peaking at nearly 44,000 in December.

The dataset collected will provide an invaluable basis for the sustainable development in the Shannon and Fergus estuaries and their hinterland into the future. Robust data is essential to permit the identification of areas of particular avian interest within SPAs and other areas of importance for the conservation of bird populations to inform optimal solutions for sustainable development in strategic locations such as the Shannon Estuary.  The detailed scientific data collected will act as the basis for the objective assessment of projects or plans on the receiving environment in particular on European Sites such as the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries SPA.  The availability of comprehensive, scientifically methodical data for the purposes of impact assessment is critical to the provision of robust assessments.  For this reason, surveys such as this are to be welcomed to allow for more sustainable development of our natural resources and to allow competent authorities to make conclusions with confidence with regard to the assessment of impacts.