Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Curlew Walk a week in

It's hard to get both wifi and time in the same place to write, so little chance to blog, though I have been posting bits and pieces on Facebook and Twitter.

It's Thursday and off to Banagher soon to give a talk and meet people working on the Shannon Callows - where curlews were once common but no longer.  And that is the story everywhere I have been. I have just given an interview to a local paper in Mullingar, West Meath.  The reporter was an elderly man and I played him the sound of a curlew's bubbling call.  His eyes filled with tears and he asked me to turn it off.  It had been so long since he had heard one - and yes I was right, he hadn't yet noticed it slipping away.  Same old story.  Where's is this Irish Gra (said graw and means love) for the land that keeps being mentioned - this innate love of the landscape upon which generations of Irish have laboured? There is a love of farming - but not of the land that is farmed, and that is a crucial difference.  There is almost a violent relationship with the earth here - thrashed hedges, stripped bogs, fast and furious cutting of grass for silage, intense stocking.  The corncrake has gone - the curlew is hot on its heels.  I doubt there are even 160 pairs left.

It wouldn't be true to say no one cares, the people I've talked to do care when they hear the figures and the curlew song, but they haven't noticed it going. And whether there is any will to do what it takes to bring wildlife back to the fields is another matter.  If they are paid - then perhaps - money talks a lot and it is hard to make a living as a farmer I know.  There are payments through what is called the Glas (pronounced Gloss, means green) scheme whereby farmers get payment for wildlife on the farm if they don't plough/cut/chop/thrash in the sensitive season.  But is that enough without other management and control?

The question I am struggling with today is. - is it worth it?  There is so much damage and lack of awareness that it will take a huge amount of effort to get people to act - and if they do then it will take another huge amount of predator control and hanbitiat management to bring the few pairs left back to healthy numbers.  Is that right?  Should public money be spent on carnage for crows, foxes and anything else that predates ground nesting birds?  They are native species too that farming has allowed to increase.  And where would the money come from?  Curlews can't be sold and traded to make money - so all you get is a bubbling bird at the end of it all.  The people here have to decide what they want.

I gave a talk to a class of 17 year olds studying agriculture and the environment for the equivalent of A level in a rural town called Ballinamore.  Not one had even heard of a curlew, yet alone seen one or knew what it sounded like.  The teacher had heard of it but wanted to see a picture.  These young people are the first generation to not hear a corncrake and the last to be able to hear a curlew.  But they will have to be quick.

A few more days left to talk to more people involved and get their take.

Ireland - the land that is fast becoming the land where no birds sing.


  1. I was in Miltown Malbay this weekend and saw over thirty curlews feeding on a hill slope on the cliff-walk at white strand. I presume these are migratory birds who will soon leave our shore. I am interested to know when do they leave? At least it is an opportunity to see this wonderful birds but it does create the illusion that they are not under threat.

  2. Hello - so sorry for the terrible delay in replying to this! A group of 30 curlews is more likely to be set of non breeding birds, probably juveniles. Or, though I don't think so, they may be birds that tried to breed but have already failed. Again apologies for taking so long to get back. I'm now writing the book. Very best