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Corncrake returns to Clare Island for first time in 30 years in 'exceptional year' for the endangered bird

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The battle to save the Corncrake from extinction here has received a second boost
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The battle to save the Corncrake from extinction here has received a second boost

The endangered Corncrake bird has returned to Clare Island off the coast of Co 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.

The battle to save the Corncrake from extinction here has also received a second boost with the nettle emerging as an important conservation weapon in increasing numbers of the shy and elusive bird near Belmullet.

The 145 calling males recorded this year compares to an estimated 4,000 calling males dotted around Ireland during the 1970s with the numbers plummeting since.

Manager of the Corncrake project, Denis Strong said on Friday that he is “over the moon” with the figures.

Mr Strong stated that the figures “gives us hope for the conservation of the Corncrake here. It has been an exceptional year for the bird here”.

The Corncrake's current strongholds here are to be found in north Mayo, Connemara and the Donegal islands.

Mr Strong said that he was “particularly thrilled” with the return of the Corncrake to Clare Island after 30 years.

Two calling males were heard on the island this Summer and Mr Strong stated: “If there was ever an island made for the Corncrake, it is Clare Island where there is still a lot of the old traditional farming going on.”

Mr Strong stated that he was baffled every year before this year as to why the Corncrake wasn’t there. He stated: “It beggared belief as to why they weren’t there.”

Mr Strong stated that the numbers recorded this year are a morale boost for everyone involved in the project - farmers, field workers and local rural communities.

He stated: “When you put your heart and soul into something like this, it is so important from a morale point of view to see a result.”

Mr Strong cited the 44 calling males detected at Belmullet in Co Mayo this Summer “as a real shot in the arm.”

Mr Strong revealed that a conservation measure of planting nettles across four acres of land in the townland of Barhauve is really paying dividends at Belmullet.

The Western Divisional Manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) stated that in 2016/2017 when nettles were first planted, there were two to three Corncrakes detected and this summer 13 were detected at Barhauve.

He stated: “This was as a direct response to creating nettle cover for the Corncrake. Nothing else. It has been a huge success.”

Mr Strong stated that the 145 national figure for this year compares to 163 for 2019.

However, Mr Strong stated that the year on year figures are not comparable as the NPWS was unable to complete counts for the Donegal islands due to Covid 19 travel restrictions to and from off-shore islands.

Mr Strong pointed out that Tory Island this year had nine compared to 24 last yer and Inishbofin/Inisdooey had 16 compared to 39 last year.

Mr Strong stated that "the Donegal island count is way under where it should be as a lot of birds were missed in key areas of the Donegal islands.”

Mr Strong stated that the drop in recorded numbers on the Donegal islands “doesn’t worry me at all as numbers everywhere else were up”.

Mr Strong stated that Kerry and Clare are also back on the Corncrake map.

He stated that it is fantastic that the Corncrake has returned to Kerry for the second year running.

Mr Strong stated: “A lot of the older generation of farmers who would have remembered the Corncrake from years and years ago and would have lamented the loss of the call of the Corncrake in Spring are delighted to hear them coming back to these areas again.”

Mr Strong stated that the first national census he was involved in was 1993 that recorded 164 calling males with 88 in the Shannon Callows.

Mr Strong stated that the Corncrake is now extinct in the Shannon Callows.

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