10 Conservation Success Stories
All too often we hear only about species declines and problems faced by nature conservation. Yet there are many examples of excellent and positive conservation success stories that do not get the recognition they deserve. If approached correctly, based on science and properly resourced, conservation objectives can be met. Here we profile 10 conservation initiatives that have been very successful in delivery of conservation objectives. This is the latest in our Biodiversity Ireland’s Top 10 which celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
Duhallow LIFE Himalayan Balsam Eradication
The Duhallow LIFE Samok project has effectively eradicated the invasive Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) from the upper Blackwater catchment in County Cork. This involved labour intensive hand pulling of tens of thousands of plants from about 50kms of riverbanks, drains and adjacent floodplains and no chemicals were used. Under the After Life programme only a few pockets of Himalayan balsam comprising a maximum of about 50 plants has been seen and removed in the ‘eradicated’ catchment area. This, allied with the conservation actions for other targeted species, has greatly benefited biodiversity within the Blackwater catchment area (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Lesser Horseshoe Bat
The lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) is confined to the south and mid-west of Ireland, extending from Mayo south to Kerry. They are associated with broadleaf and mixed woodlands and avoid open, intensive farmed landscapes. In summer, they require old unused buildings that have large openings through which they fly and in winter, they hibernate in underground caves, mines and cellars. Out of concern for the long term conservation outlook of this species, the Vincent Wildlife Trust began acquiring buildings used by lesser horseshoe bats, secured and renovated them as reserves. The Trust currently manages 13 buildings as reserves and these are used by 25% of the total population. Thanks to the targeted conservation efforts of the Vincent Wildlife Trust and other conservation measures of NPWS, the population of lesser horseshoe bats has increased by between 60-97%, from 1993 to 2014, and the population is now considered stable (Photograph: Jessicajil).
Lough Boora Parklands
Lough Boora Parklands is an extensive network of wetland sites in County Offaly. Thanks to the initiative of Bord na Mona and the local community, this large expanse of cutaway bog has developed into a hugely important amenity for people to visit, to explore the outdoors and to experience biodiversity at first hand. The Parklands has a range of services for visitors, and the varied wetland sites are linked by 50km of trails that are suitable for all ages and all levels of mobility. There is a great diversity of wetland and pioneering woodland habitats, and the area supports a rich biological diversity in both summer and winter, all of which is easily accessible. It provides an extremely valuable learning experience. This is a hugely successful example of the potential for creating very important wildlife sites from cutover peatlands, thereby increasing the national biodiversity resource (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Rockabill Island Roseate Tern Project
Ireland has a major responsibility for the conservation of Roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) as it supports 80% of the entire European breeding population of this species. Roseate tern suffered a 50% decline in population over a 20 year period in the latter part of the 20th Century. At Rockabill Island off the north Dublin coast, the largest breeding colony, the numbers dropped to a low of 180 pairs in 1989. BirdWatch Ireland and NPWS initiated a conservation project for Roseate terns on Rockabill Island by improving the habitat, constructing nest boxes, reducing disturbance from visitors and controlling gulls. The project has been a major success as the number of breeding pairs of Roseate terns has now risen to over 1,500. Challenges still remain to secure the future conservation of this species, but the on-going and long-term management of Rockabill Island is one of Ireland’s great conservation success stories (Photograph: Brian Burke).
Kerry Natterjack Toad Project
The natterjack toad is one of only three amphibians found in Ireland. It suffered a significant contraction in range in Ireland since 1800, and became confined to parts of the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas of County Kerry. In 2008, NPWS initiated a new scheme aimed at getting farmers involved in natterjack toad conservation by digging ponds to increase the availability of suitable breeding habitat around Castlemaine Harbour. The project is progressing very well as there are currently 100 breeding sites for natterjack Toad, and the future outlook for this species is very positive. This projects show how conservation efforts can be successful when there is a financial incentive provided to deliver practical management measures which have a scientific basis (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Pine marten (Martes martes) is one of Ireland’s rarest mammals. In the 1980s pine marten were confined to a small number of isolated natural woodland sites in the west, particularly in County Clare. Since then, pine marten have expanded their range in quite a dramatic fashion and they now occur in every county but are still uncommon in parts of Cork, Limerick and mid-Ulster. Evidence of their presence in an area is all too often confirmed by road casualties as they are a largely nocturnal species. The increased forestry cover and reduction in persecution is thought to have been responsible for their expansion in range. The return of this magnificent elusive creature to many of our woodland sites is wonderful conservation success (Photograph: Edward Delaney).
Red Kite Re-introduction Programme
Red kite became extinct in Ireland as a breeding species in the late 18th Century. In 2007, the Golden Eagle Trust working with NPWS began a re-introduction programme in County Wicklow, bringing nestling red kites of between five and seven weeks of age across from Wales. More birds were introduced in subsequent years, and the release programme extended to Fingal and Co. Down. Then in 2010 the first successful breeding of red kite in over 200 years occurred in Wicklow. The reintroduction programme has gone from strength to strength and red kites are now commonly seen in Wicklow and in the eastern counties. The red kite is one of four raptor re-introduction programmes currently underway in Ireland (Photograph: Tony Hisgett).
Conservation of Abbeyleix Bog
Abbeyleix Bog is a wonderful example of local community led conservation. In 2000, when a raised bog on the outskirts of Abbeyleix was destined to be destroyed for peat harvesting, the local community banded together to fight for the peatland site to be safeguarded as a community resource. This campaign was successful, and in 2010 Bord na Mona handed over the management of the bog to the local community group on a 50 year lease agreement. Today the peatland site is being restored and managed for conservation, and there is an active programme of engagement where visitors are welcomed onto the site to enjoy this special resource. There are other excellent examples of peatland conservation projects, but the community-led aspect of the Abbeyleix Bog Project sets it apart (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Burren Farming for Conservation Programme
The Burren Farming for Conservation Programme is a locally targeted conservation programme that brings farmers and ecologists together to deliver farming systems that support the biologically diverse grasslands of the Burren. Running since the 1990s the scheme now has 200 participant farmers, and has been remarkably successful. As a consequence, the conservation of the internationally important Burren looks secure. It is widely regarded as a model for locally-led agri-environment schemes, a model that is now being pursued and replicated in other parts of the country. (Photograph: Brendan Dunford www.burrenprogramme.com).
Eradication of Muskrat
Muskrat, a native of North America, were introduced to Ireland for fur farming in 1929. A thriving population established along the southeastern shores of Lough Derg in Co. Tipperary between 1929 and 1934, from three animals that escaped from holding cages. Arising from concerns about the impact of this invasive species on the local area, The Musk Rat Act 1933 was enacted and an extermination programme begun in September of that year. By May 1934 the last muskrat was trapped, signalling the end of this successful eradication programme. Although this eradication occurred almost 100 years ago, it shows that if there is the political will, backed up by adequate resources, the eradication of invasive species is possible. By way of postscript, a single muskrat was sighted in Co. Cork in 2015, demonstrating the need for constant vigilance to protect against new arrivals (Photograph: Pixabay).