Fancy checking out birds?

ANYONE visiting our off-shore islands, such as the Skelligs or the Blaskets, will surely be enthralled by not only what’s happening on the water, but above their heads.

These islands are internationally-recognised colonies of a large variety of seabirds which entertain and provide a noisy spectacle. It’s always fascinating to watch gannets dive from around 30m and hit the waves in a feeding frenzy. Marine tours with knowledgeable guides probably offer the best opportunity to appreciate all this winged activity.

Recently, the World Adventure Travel conference was based in Killarney. This is a growing form of tourism on which Ireland is well placed to capitalise. This country is an important location for a range of breeding seabirds that congregate around the coast during the summer.

When taken with Britain and associated islands, we are seen as one of the richest areas in the world for seabirds. Just under eight million seabirds from 25 species breed here and in Britain.

Some islands offer a safe haven to breeding seabirds which also thrive in abundant feeding grounds in the surrounding Atlantic. Not forgetting, of course, that difficulty of access by humans gives the birds a chance to nest and rear their young. For such reasons these islands enjoy special protection status.

Valuable information on certain seabird groups comes from surveys and research work. But, knowledge of the breeding habits and other aspects of the life cycle and populations of birds such as the Manx shearwater, storm petrel and puffin is relatively low, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Under the EU Birds Directive, member states are obliged to encourage research work in relation to the protection and management of wild bird species, as a priority. Though significant progress has been made on developing survey systems, much more needs to be done in relation to improving the accuracy of population estimates, says the NPWS.

A lot of the survey leg work can also be reduced by using novel technology and remote sensing techniques, while new insights into breeding success in Ireland are also called for.

For these reasons, NPWS is providing grants to third-level institutions to undertake scientific research on breeding populations of Manx shearwater, storm petrel and puffin at a number of relevant sites in Ireland during the 2015–2017 breeding period.

Such work could be a primary source, informing Ireland’s next submission to EU legislation over the period, December 2014 – February 2018. NPWS is seeking submissions from relevant research groups to apply for grant assistance.


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