Curlew sliding quietly towards extinction

THE last grey wolf in Ireland was killed by John Watson of Ballydarton, Co Carlow, just 230 years ago.

It is unlikely that today’s enthusiasm for reintroducing once-abundant but now absent species, especially raptors, will stretch so far as to try to re-establish a population of wolves on this small island. Magnificent as a pack of wolves may be — unless you’re targeted as its next meal — it is hard to see how wolves’ needs could be accommodated in today’s Ireland.

In any event, there are more pressing problems for those who care for Ireland’s wildlife. In recent days the EPA reminded us of the dreadful destruction of our once-pristine rivers. Birdwatch Ireland has, in a more specific instance, rung the alarm bells in the most unambiguous way about the curlew, a once common species, which is sliding quietly towards extinction in Ireland. Only 130 breeding pairs remain in the Republic. A generation ago it would not have been unusual to see that many of those mottled, bobbing, rugby-ball shaped birds in just one field.

Changing farming practices, a growth in forestry and climate change have all contributed to the birds’ decline. The curlew may not have the charisma of red kite, a golden eagle, or a wolf but every effort should be made to restore its Irish population — if it’s not already too late. Surely this generation won’t allow Yeats’ imagined line: O curlew, cry no more in the air to become a reality of modern Ireland?


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