Grouse numbers out of the red on protected Mayo bogland

Numbers of the protected Red Grouse have doubled on the Mayo bogland at Owenduff/Nephin special area of conservation.

Numbers of the protected Red Grouse have doubled on the Mayo bogland at Owenduff/Nephin special area of conservation.

The population of a protected bird that likes to hide in heather on a Mayo bogland has doubled.

Red grouse numbers at the Owenduff/Nephin special protection area, which has been the source of some controversy in the past regarding conservation efforts there, have doubled over the past 10 years, according to a new report by the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

Cameron Clotworthy, a conservation ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in north Mayo, welcomed the increased number of red grouse, a species which has declined in Ireland by 66 per cent over the last 40 years.

In 2000 the European Court of Justice took a case against Ireland for failing to protect the habitat at the 25,000 hectare Owenduff/Nephin complex. The habitat was damaged mainly through the grazing of sheep on the bogland.

Since then special conservation efforts, including restricted grazing, were introduced.

Local farmers affected by the conservation efforts have received €3 million in compensation since 2006.

As well as the red grouse, the complex is a breeding site for a rare Wader bird called a Golden Plover. It also supports Ireland’s smallest bird of prey, the merlin, and is a winter feeding ground for the rare Greenland white-fronted goose, which feeds on bog cotton there.

The population of red grouse in the complex has increased from between 362 and 426 birds in 2002 to between 790 and 832 individual birds in 2012, says the new report.

Mr Clotworthy said the farming community rowed in behind conservation efforts.

“The farming community were very good,” he explained. “At the time these measues were introduced, it was a totally new thing to do. They agreed and complied with the measures and the habitat has recovered. This is a very significant increase in grouse numbers.”

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