The Trusts’ radio-tracking study on the life of lapwing chicks features on the new RTÉ television series of ‘The Zoo’

The Trusts’ radio-tracking study on the life of lapwing chicks features on the new RTÉ television series of ‘The Zoo’ this Sunday the 6th May at 6.30 pm.

Tune in and see the Trust working in partnership with Dublin Zoo & the National Parks & Wildlife Service, for the conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage.



Trust’s lapwing chick survival study features in the Irish Examiner


This article appears in the Irish Examiner dated  Friday, April 29, 2016.

The original full article can be read here:

A farmer, walking his fields at this time of year, might come upon a clutch of four little eggs, their pointed ends arranged neatly together in a scrape on the ground, writes Richard Collins

The survival rate of lapwing chicks is alarmingly low and is a threat to the existence of the species here.

These ‘Easter’ eggs were eaten long ago during the seasonal festivities. Their provider, however, was no supernatural visitor but a familiar countryside bird, known as the ‘pee-wit’ ‘green plover’ or ‘lapwing’.

Lapwing Chick Hiding
Lapwing Chick Hiding

This pigeon-sized green black and white wader calls evocatively as it flaps about on dark rounded wings. A wetland bird with a secret yearning to be a thrush, it stalks insect larvae and worms on farmland. In winter, Irish lapwings are joined by visitors from Britain and mainland Europe. Flocks, tens of thousands strong, were common here but not any more.

The lapwing has fallen on lean times; numbers have declined steadily over the last 40 years. There were 88% fewer breeding pairs in 2008 than there had been in 1993. Kieran Buckley of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), who has been studying lapwings, says that ‘we don’t appreciate how bad things are here’.

Changes in land use and farming practices are blamed for the decline but Kieran fears that the raiding of nests by foxes, rats, stray cats, hooded crows, and magpies is also a factor. Predation, he thinks, could be knocking back any chance of recovery. There’s just not enough habitat, he says, and the little that’s left acts as a magnet for predators.

Two years ago, Kieran and his team began studying the survival of lapwing chicks from nests in a 75ha area of cut-away bog owned by the NPWS at Boora, County Offaly. During the 2014 and 2015 nesting seasons, tiny radio transmitters were fitted to chicks in 41 lapwing broods. The youngsters were, on average, nine days old when ringed. Batteries had a life of about 30 days. Radio signals from the units were picked up on portable receivers using handheld directional aerials.

A unit worn by a chick falling victim to a fox might still transmit after it had passed through the predator’s gut. Each youngster was radio-tracked three or four times per week, revealing the types of terrain it preferred and how far it had moved from the nest. Lapwing chicks normally fledge 35 to 40 days after hatching.

Data from this first phase of the project have now been analysed. The results are revealing. Less than one chick (0.86) fledged per brood. Success rates were similar, irrespective of the terrain in which a nest was located. Some chicks remained close to the nest while others moved considerable distances. Moving did not appear to affect a chick’s survival prospects.

Predation was indeed the major threat to the birds; all but one of the chicks recorded dead had been killed by a predator. Foxes were the main culprits, accounting for 47% of deaths, three adult foxes being responsible for most of the carnage. Predatory birds killed 32% of victims while the identity of the killer could not be determined in 16% of cases. Three-day-old chicks were taken. So were 28-day-old ones.

The overall survival rate of chicks might seem to be disastrously low but, in fact, it’s high enough to compensate for the deaths of adult birds in the population and increase the number of breeding pairs. However, the situation at Boora is not representative of lapwing sites elsewhere.

The lands there are managed for the conservation of grey partridges. With foxes and grey crows being systematically removed, it’s a relatively safe haven for nesting lapwings; 122 broods were recorded during the study period. Only if similar control measures are taken at breeding sites elsewhere in Ireland, can lapwings hope to have a future here.

The research at Boora is supported by Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park and the NPWS. Kristina Abaruite, Éabhin Byrne, Therese Kelly, Shane Sweeney and Kieran Buckley were members of the research team.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Irish Times – 28 Feb 2015 – Grey partridge conservation takes flight in Co Dublin

Irish Times Article on Saturday 28 of February 2015.

The courtship song of the grey partridge is rather harsh, to human ears at least. But its kierr-ik dialogue used to be as evocative of Irish summer nights on many Irish farms as the crex-crex of the corncrake, another almost vanished bird. Today very few of us ever get to hear a partridge in the wild in Ireland, but a new project may give us a chance to do so again.

A game bird, the partridge was once popular on the Irish rural table, but it vanished from most farms from the late 1960s, and is now reduced to a single viable breeding population, at Bord na Móna’s Lough Boora Parklands, in Co Offaly. Its survival there requires a lot of life support from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The partridge’s shift from ubiquity to extreme rarity is a textbook illustration of the intimate relationship between wildlife and farming practices.

Originally a bird of the open steppes, it benefited greatly from forest clearance and grain production. Traditional fallowing left it ample room to nest and raise chicks undisturbed. Kieran Buckley, an NPWS ranger working with the Irish Grey Partridge Conservation Trust, describes the bird as having followed the plough from Mongolia to Ireland.
The introduction of new farming techniques here in the 1960s deprived the partridge of food diversity and plant cover for its breeding habitat.

Since 2011, however, the partridge has been making a tentative return to north Co Dublin, thanks to an innovative partnership between three local farmers, Fingal County Council, the Grey Partridge Conservation Trust and the National Association of Regional Game Councils.

The farmers have agreed to leave a three-metre margin between their hedgerows and their crop cultivation. Laid end to end, this slimline biodiversity sanctuary is already 10km long.
Fingal council compensates the farmers with the full value of their lost crop, and their EU single farm payment for cultivated acreage remains unaffected.

Seventy-five partridges from Lough Boora were introduced in the first year, and, although the very wet summer of 2012 hit the project hard, at least 19 pairs bred last year, enough to justify hopes that the project can become self-sustaining.
Nevertheless, the numbers will continue to be boosted over five years from a captive breeding programme managed by a local gamekeeper, Derek O’Brien. He raises up to 10 partridge coveys – families – a year, using a mix of partridges and bantams as parents and surrogate parents.

Hans Visser, Fingal’s energetic biodiversity officer, is one of the driving forces behind the scheme, which he hopes will be replicated through the national farming-for-conservation projects due to be announced shortly. It epitomises the idea that very small changes within industrial farming can make a big difference to biodiversity.
Visser also believes that engaging the community is vital. This engagement ranges from raising awareness in schools to showing local people with the necessary space how to raise partridge chicks for release.

Out along the headlands the reintroduced partridges, both adults and chicks, face many threats from predators, which O’Brien attempts to control with the help of a small arsenal of traps. These are often necessary for the restoration of an endangered species, to help the population grow to a sustainable level. Otherwise the very limited sanctuary of the headlands turns into a magnet for predators, which are attracted by the easy availability of the very species you are trying to protect.

O’Brien’s rare skills in dealing with the complex equations of predation are now part of any serious conservationist’s repertoire.
Meanwhile, recent research shows that some other species are benefiting from the partridge scheme. Declining farmland birds like yellowhammers share the seeds produced by the variety of plants on the headlands, and bats feast on the insects that are proliferating among them.

Pat Rooney, who has a large cereal farm, has embraced the scheme warmly. He enjoys the knowledge that they are breeding on his family’s land once more.
There are other benefits for farmers. Plants like chicory, fodder radish, mustard, linseed and kale have been seeded into the headlands. They give cover to the adult partridges and attract the insects that the chicks eat for protein while fledging, or feathering up.

Along with native grasses, they form quivering swathes of green, olive and silvery grey against the golden backdrop of a field of barley. Rooney agrees that this small change has greatly enhanced the beauty of his fields.
He has discovered an unexpected economic gain as well. Aphids, those tiny insects that suck the lifeblood out of garden plants like roses, are also a major pest in monocultural cereal fields. When no other plant species are around to host the aphids’ predators, their population explodes, destroying up to half the crop.

The new headlands, however, are nurseries for dozens of insect species that feed on aphids. Rooney has noticed a significant reduction in aphid damage already where the marginal vegetation has been restored. If his experience is repeated elsewhere, partridge restoration could become a flagship project nationally for the agrienvironmental scheme proposed under the EU’s new rural-development programme.

Prime time Radio Slot for Red Grouse

The Trust featured on today’s Mooney Radio show on RTE Radio 1 as Kieran Buckley of the Irish Grey Partridge conservation trust gave an update to listeners on the trusts work on grey partridge and red grouse conservation.

The trust managed to secure a prime slot on afternoon drive time radio on the extremely popular Derek Mooney show from 3-4pm. Kieran was quizzed by Dr Richard Collins and Eanna Ni Lamhna on the status of the grey partridge conservation project and on the plight of Ireland’s Red Grouse.

Listen to the programme from the Mooney show section on The program was aired on the 22/10/2010.