Back from the Brink –

The Return of the Corncrake to Clare

When it comes to modern agriculture and its relationship with nature, the Corncrake (Crex crex) has long featured as a species of concern. Corncrakes are members of the Rallidae family, associated with a variety of marshy and dry grassland habitats. The species are migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa where grassland habitats are favoured – and they begin arriving back on their breeding grounds in April and May.

The Corncrake’s current strongholds here are to be found in north Mayo, Connemara and the Donegal islands. However, the Corncrake is on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland due to historical declines, and in 1993 the species became extinct in the Moy Valley and the Shannon Callows.

The elusive bird known for its repeated, rasping call, was once widespread across the countryside, but the population was decimated by mechanised farming as the corncrake nests in meadows. Conservation efforts in Ireland stem back to at least 1993 and have primarily revolved around paying farmers subsidies to delay harvests until the birds have reared their young. Action plans have been published, setting out goals and objectives in terms of stabilising and increasing the availability of suitable habitat and subsequently the breeding population itself.

Corncrake conservation measures for the most part concentrated on delayed mowing and “inside-out” cutting to avoid and minimise risks posed by silage harvesting. In more recent years, these measures have been supplemented by the creation of ‘Early and Late Cover’ to provide refuge for the birds before and after meadow cover is available. Predator control has also featured in recent years, with Foxes, Mink and Crows being targeted.

The NPWS Corncrake Grant Scheme and the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme have been the primary sources of financial support for landowners to deliver conservation measures for the Corncrake. These schemes have served as useful pilots to inform the Green-Low Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS), which has a dedicated measure for Corncrake.

Such conservation strategies have proved to be successful, with news that the endangered Corncrake has returned to Clare Island off the coast of County Mayo for the first time in 30 years. That is according to the draft 2020 census of the rare bird which shows that the numbers of calling males around Ireland now totals 145.

On the long-term trend, the report states that this decline is ‘’of concern and puts a question mark on the Corncrake’s long-term survival in Ireland in the absence of additional measures”. However, the Project Manager Dennis Strong stated that ‘’It has been an exceptional year for the bird here, and the figures give us hope for the future conservation of the Corncrake here in Clare’’.

References and Further Reading:

Daniel Moloney and Anita Donaghy (2016). BirdWatch Ireland (BWI) Annual Report of the Corncrake Conservation Project.

Marie Duffy (2018). The Corncrake Conservation Project Annual Report. Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

The Corncrake Conservation Project – National Parks and Wildlife Service

Hynes and Hanley (2009) The “Crex Crex” Lament: Estimating Landowners Willingness to Pay for Corncrake Conservation on Irish Farmland. Stirling Economics Discussion Paper.

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