Extinction threat for the curlew a growing concern
The Curlew is a regular winter visitor to our countryside and flocks of these long-billed birds may often be seen at this time of year in damp pastures and in coastal areas all over Ireland. Our local population is supplemented by visiting birds arriving from Scotland and Scandinavia.
Things may look good for the Curlew at this time of year but when spring arrives, and the winter visitors depart, things take a turn for the worst. The Irish breeding population is small and is confined to a declining area of damp boggy places.
The possibility of the Curlew becoming extinct as a breeding species in the coming years is one of the greatest conservation concerns in Ireland. Decades of habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural intensification and afforestation and losses to predators such as foxes and crows have seen the species decline in numbers by 96% since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
To address these concerns the Curlew Conservation Programme was initiated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The programme involves a wide range of people all proactively working to help save the Curlew as a breeding species. Central among these are the landowners where Ireland's last remaining Curlew nest.
The programme focusses on seven core Curlew breeding areas: Stack's Mountains, Co Kerry, Lough Corrib, Lough Ree, North Roscommon/Mayo, mid-Leitrim, north Monaghan and Donegal and involves habitat maintenance, enhancement and creation, survey effort, nest protection, public and community engagement and much more.
A national survey commissioned by NPWS in 2015 and 2016 found drastic declines of the national breeding population of Curlews. Whereas 3,750-4,000 pairs are estimated to have bred in the Republic of Ireland in the late 1980s, there now remains no more than 150 pairs. This represents a 96% decline. Breeding productivity is so low that the Curlew could go extinct as a breeding species in Ireland within 5-10 years.
Sixty breeding pairs were recorded by the Curlew Conservation Programme in 2017. The number of pairs in 2018 declined to 45 pairs. It is thought that very poor weather in the Spring of 2018, allied with extreme drought conditions as the season progressed, resulted in fewer pairs breeding overall. Of these 45 breeding pairs, just 13 pairs are believed to have reared chicks. The total number of chicks recorded to have made it to the stage where they fledged was just 19 individuals.