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Beloved Corncrake bird endangered: Irish Farmers Help Save It

By: Samuel Lin

Once a common bird, the corncrake’s “kek kek” call was heard in many areas of Ireland. Now, after its habitat was largely destroyed to make way for farmland, the number of corncrakes in Ireland has dwindled. In order to help, farmers are changing their ways to preserve the corncrake’s habitat.

The corncrake, nicknamed the land rail, is a secretive bird that lurks in fields of high grasses and meadows, as well as farmer’s hayfields. The corncrake is related to the rail, and look very much like rails. This incredible bird migrates from parts of Africa to parts of Europe, like Ireland, in the summer. It’s loud, hoarse “kek kek,” which can be heard from one kilometer away, was a sign of summer in Ireland.

The corncrake population began to decline quickly when farmers changed their practices in the 1970s. Instead of mowing hayfields manually, farmers started to use mechanical mowers. In addition, farmers started to get rid of weeds and grasses, such as nettles. These plants were viewed as “dirty” by farmers, but were actually very important plants and a habitat for corncrakes.

“I remember in the 1970’s, this area was full of corncrakes. Then farmers started mowing grass earlier, and that ruined it, until the last corncrake in this area was right here, on this land,” said Patrick Mangan, a corncrake-loving farmer. “The corncrake was nearly wiped out here. And if he is, we’ll never get him back again.”

The plight of the corncrakes in Ireland came to the attention of many farmers and conversationists. Some started a $6 million project, Corncrake LIFE, to protect the birds. The Corncrake LIFE project worked with farmers in eight regions, where 85 percent of Ireland’s corncrakes once lived.

“The project will strive to achieve a 20 percent increase in calling [corncrake] males across the project sites over the course of the project,” according to Concrake LIFE’s website. Currently, the number of calling males in Ireland is less than 200.

Farmers are changing their ways to protect the birds. For instance, farmers are encouraged to plant grasses and weeds, not for harvesting, but to provide a habitat for the corncrake and other native birds.

In addition, farmers are being paid 32 euros every day not to plow their hayfields until August 1. Farmers will also receive a bonus 8 euros if they plow their fields from the center outwards, instead from the outside in. But, these 40 euro bonuses are by no means enough remuneration. Due to flooding, many of the farmers have lost up to 2,500 euros because of late harvesting.


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