Joining together to save wildlife

PEOPLE in areas all over Ireland where wildlife has been under deadly pressure for decades and where some species have either disappeared or are under serious threat, are now getting involved in conservation projects.

One such area is in north Cork, through which the River Blackwater flows and where the success of the effort will depend largely on the work of local communities and schools.

The Newmarket-based development group, IRD Duhallow, is aiming to conserve species including the pearl mussel, salmon, otter, kingfisher and dipper in the Blackwater’s upper catchment – primarily in one of its tributaries, the River Allow. The species have top-rated listings under the EU Habitats Directive and have greatly declined in an area where many once thrived.

Surveys of the pearl mussel and the salmon have been carried out by the Kanturk Angling Group, which sought Leader funding for the project. Co-ordinated by Pat Fitzpatrick, the IRD project will involve a range of work on the Allow that, hopefully, should ensure conservation status of these species on the river. Actions will include halting bank erosion, introducing alternative forms of cattle drinks for livestock along the river, control of river weed, an awareness campaign for the species in the locality and the promotion of eco tourism in the area.

“To ensure the survival of these species, we are looking to improve the water quality of the river and maintain it at a high standard. Another part of the project will be to investigate other tributaries and species in the region for future conservation projects,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The success of the project would depend greatly on engaging the local communities and schools and allowing them take ownership and pride in their rivers and the species they contain, he emphasised.

Dr Fran Igoe, of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board, is helping to prepare a proposal for co-funding from LIFE, the EU financial programme which, since 1992, has given support of over €1.25 billion to environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU.

Dr Igoe is well known for his research into rear species of fish still in Ireland, including the Arctic char and the Killarney shad. Char, similar in appearance to the brown trout, can be traced back to the Ice Age and its presence is a good indicator of clean water.

The pearl mussel is also found in pristine water, with clean gravel and sand. But, due to the worsening pollution of Irish waterways in recent decades, it has been in steady decline. If large quantities of silt build up in a river bed, no juvenile pearl mussels will survive and adults will gradually die.

Separately, conservation rangers have joined forces with experts on birds of prey to study peregrine falcons in Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Under the aegis of the Golden Eagle Trust and Queen’s University, Belfast, this will be a long-term study. Fieldwork began earlier this year.

At the core of the study is a colour-ringing scheme whereby all chicks are fitted with a light blue ring which is individually numbered, giving that bird a unique code, or identifier. The rings can be read using a telescope or binoculars.

It is hoped that data collected from the rings and nest visits will help build a picture of the survival rates of birds, dispersal of young from nest sites and the age at which young birds are recruited into the breeding population.

Conservation rangers monitor the peregrines nesting sites and are vigilant in relation to disturbance and threats to the birds. The general public is also asked to be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour near nest sites to the gardaí and local conservation rangers. The peregrine falcon is one of the most iconic birds of prey. Its striking features and aerial prowess make it instantly recognisable. During the 1950’s and ’60’s the species suffered a huge decline and was all but decimated in Ireland, the US and Britain.

Chemical pesticides were blamed for the virtual wipe-out but, since then, the peregrine has made a remarkable recovery, thanks to worldwide conservation efforts. Populations in Britain and Ireland have largely recovered from their collapses, experts believe. Despite this, populations are once again in decline in some areas. Persecution and, to a lesser extent, contamination are seen as the main threats to the bird.

Like all birds of prey, the peregrine is highly protected in Ireland under the Wildlife Act 1976/2000 and the EU Birds Directive 1979. It is an offence to hunt the birds, disturb the bird near a nest containing eggs or chicks, interfere with their nests, and to remove eggs or young from a nest.

Sightings of colour-ringed birds and nesting sites should be reported to the Wicklow Mountains National Park office at: 0404-45800.

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