Minister Coveney launches Birdwatch Ireland’s ‘Action Plan for Lowland Farmland Birds’

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, launched BirdWatch Ireland’s Action Plan for Lowland Farmland Birds today. This Action Plan is one of ten Action Plans which are being created by BirdWatch Ireland to protect priority, migratory and dispersed birds in the wider countryside.

Speaking at the launch the Minister expressed his disappointment that “farmland birds have experienced some of the largest population declines of any group of birds in Ireland”. The Minister added that “the Corn Bunting, a specialised lowland farmland bird, had sadly become extinct in Ireland, and data shows that the Kestrel and Skylark have shown a significant decline between 1998 and 2008”.

The Minister was heartened by the wide range of interest in the protection of lowland farmland birds and that over 30 stakeholders were engaged in the development of this Action Plan. He pointed out that Action Plans were a ‘proven conservation tool’ and this Action Plan identifies 4 themes for the conservation of lowland farmland birds and sets targets and actions to be reached.

The Minister commented on the significant role that agriculture has to play in the protection of these birds and that “lowland farmland birds depend on habitats such as tillage, grasslands and associated features such as hedgerows, ditches, etc. for their survival”.

Dr. Alex Copland, Senior Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland thanked Minister Coveney for his interest and support, saying “with current CAP reform negotiations ongoing, we are at a crossroads for the delivery of measures to halt the drastic declines in farmland bird populations we have seen, both in Ireland and in Europe. Voluntary agri-environment schemes such as AEOS have the ability to halt and even reverse these declines if they are implemented correctly. Continued support for farmers who deliver benefits for wildlife through these schemes is essential. It is great to see the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine taking a special interest in this project and we are very grateful to Minister Coveney for officially launching our Action Plan”.

BirdWatch Ireland’s Species Policy Officer, Peadar O’Connell, thanked all the stakeholders who were involved in the creation of this Action Plan, noting that, “without the input from a wide range of stakeholders we would not be here today. We greatly appreciate all the support we have received for the project and look forward to working closely with stakeholders in implementing this Action Plan to stop the worrying declines in our farmland birds”.

Peadar continued, “Lowland farmland birds provide a lot of enjoyment to people in the wider countryside and form a crucial part of our nation’s natural heritage. However, their importance goes even further than that: they are a vital indicator of the health of our farmland and wider countryside. The survival of these birds is vital to the continuation of the green image that Irish agriculture currently enjoys both at home and abroad.”

Minister Coveney congratulated BirdWatch Ireland on the development of such a comprehensive Action Plan for the protection of farmland birds and looked forward to a continued healthy relationship between his Department and Birdwatch Ireland.