My Department and other Government Departments have put substantial work and funding towards the conservation of the corncrake in the Shannon Callows. This includes agri-environment payments to farmers, research into the needs of this species and cause for its decline, and grant-aid to a leading NGO to have field workers on site over the summer months for many years. The key areas used by corncrakes in the Callows were designated as a Special Protection Area, under the EU Birds Directive.
The agri-environment schemes which have been used include a Corncrake Grant Scheme, measures under REPS, the National Parks and Wildlife Service Farm Plan Scheme and further top-up payments and emergency measures. These were deemed necessary as the bird requires hay meadows or similar vegetation to live in, but nests are destroyed by cutting and so, for the bird to survive, farmers must cut the crop later than would be normal.
In spite of these measures, heavy rainfall led to flooding of the lands in the summers of 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008, causing a great decline in the population. Only the calling males can be detected: the number fell from 23 in 2005 to just 2 in 2010 and only one in 2011 and 2012.
Conservation efforts are still ongoing in this SPA. Existing contracts are being honoured in the NPWS scheme, but as the scheme budget is curtailed, no new plans are currently being entered into.
The Middle Shannon Callows SPA is unique among the Corncrake SPAs in having early and mid season cover in abundance and throughout the site. There is no need to create such cover for Corncrake. This site will continue to be monitored on an annual basis and the Corncrake Grant Scheme will be used if birds are suspected to be breeding on the Callows.