I thank the Deputy. In January 2017, a national curlew task force was formed, to include various stakeholders with an interest in the management of the curlew and its habitat. The National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department is currently considering the recommendations of the curlew task force, which were published in September 2019, in order to inform the vital next steps for curlew conservation. The possibility of the curlew becoming extinct as a breeding species is one of the most serious conservation concerns in Ireland at the moment. Decades of habitat loss and fragmentation, and losses to predators, have seen the species decline in numbers by 96% since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unfortunately, these threats are very much still present and active.
The curlew conservation programme, which was established in 2017 to pioneer curlew conservation efforts in Ireland, will continue in 2020, co-ordinated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The programme, which had a successful year in 2019, includes surveys, habitat maintenance, enhancement and creation, nest protection and public and community engagement. The aim of this locally-led programme is to reverse the population declines by supporting the creation and maintenance of suitable breeding habitat and employing nest protection officers, aiming ultimately to improve breeding productivity, that is, the number of young curlew successfully reared in a given year. Curlew productivity in key areas has improved year-on-year as a result of the works of the programme.
Landowners and local communities have been central to the success of the programme so far and co-operation with stakeholders will continue to be crucial to the programme's success. The efficacy of these ongoing conservation efforts will be determined by a research project in due course. The pilot phase of the curlew conservation programme, just three years in, has shown that prospects can be improved by following the model of locally-based teams, engaged positively and proactively with relevant stakeholders, most especially landowners, to find and safeguard the breeding attempts and improve the immediate habitat and environment for breeding attempts. Curlew conservation efforts will continue to be a key consideration in my Department's overall nature conservation strategy in 2020.