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Birds (63) of the Blasket Islands S.P.A. Part 2 Conservation Concerns

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Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

blasket island manx shearwater

blasket island manx shearwater

chough

chough

gannet

gannet

grey phalarope

grey phalarope

pomerine skua

pomerine skua

razorbill

razorbill

shags on rock

shags on rock

stonechat

stonechat

wheatear

wheatear

Birds (63) of the Blasket Islands S.P.A., Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland S.W.                  Part 2

The following comments are based on the Bird List, Part 1 in the previous blog (25.12.2015) and the Red (high Conservation Concern) and Amber (medium Conservation Concern) listings are based on the publication "Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland 2014-2019"- Irish Birds 9: 523-544  Colhoun K. and Cummins S.

The Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry, Ireland S.W. are an SPA [Special Protected Area] which is an EU designated protected area for birds under Natura 2000 and the responsibility for protection and conservation of the birds listed and their habitat is the responsibility of the host country under European Environmental Law and there are heavy fines on conviction for noncompliance against National governments and failure to install adequate Management Plans and conservation systems.

The Bird List that we have compiled in Part 1 (revised 26.12.2016) is the beginning of a comprehensive list that we hope to keep reviewed as we obtain more information from our peers, hopefully, and from our own observation about new or existing birds on the list and represents many years observation in the area rather than one or two short periods of survey and we believe that it represents the broad spectrum of the various (summer) breeding, migratory (autumn and winter) and all year round resident birds, and although it may not include all rarities seen once or twice it does include some relatively rare birds, in our opinion, which have been seen on a number of occasions e.g. Wryneck, which is our only brown woodpecker (although it does not bore into trees to feed or nest) and can turn its neck 180 degrees, from whence it got its name.

Some very interesting facts can be eluded by interpreting the figures in the Lists which were compiled first, and then the Red and Amber List criteria applied:

 Resident - All year                                                                                  26 species of birds

Autumn passage migrants                                                                       16 species

Summer breeding migratory                                                                    13 species

Migratory wintering                                                                                   8 species

TOTAL                                                                                                      63 SPECIES OF BIRDS

Red List [high Conservation Concern]                                                       7 species or 11%

Amber List [medium Conservation Concern]                                            30 species or 49%

TOTAL NUMBER OF BIRD SPECIES ON RED OR AMBER LIST                     37 SPECIES OR 60%

and a staggering 100% (13 species) of the summer breeding migratory birds on the Blasket Islands are either on the red List (1) or the Amber List (12)!!!

 

60% of the bird species on the Blasket Islands SPA are birds of high or medium Conservation Concern

Despite the fact that the Blasket Islands are an SPA under EU designation there is no Management and/or Conservation Plan for this highly diverse, fragile and vulnerable avian eco system as required by the European legislation, even though 60% of the birds breeding, visiting, living or migrating past the islands are of either high or medium International Conservation Concern!

The birds on the Red List (high Conservation Concern) include Leach's petrel which breed in the abandoned drystone walls on Beginish among the European storm petrels, of which species the biggest population in the world is on Inish Tuaisceart ( The Dead Man or The Sleeping Giant). Other red listed species are Sooty shearwater, Balearic shearwater and Red-necked phalarope  which can be seen in the Autumn on pelagic bird watching trips around the Blaskets. The world population of Balearic shearwaters is in the mere thousands as the habitat on their home breeding ground in the Mediterranean is disturbed by development. The remaining two red listed birds are the Herring gull and the Meadow pipet both of whom breed on Beginish island which also used to host a thriving population of Arctic terns and over-wintering Greenland white-fronted geese. What a fabulous wonderland of avian wildlife at our doorstep! The main threats to the diversity of the birdlife on the Blasket Islands at present are:

1. No Management / Conservation Plan

Despite the wonderful diversity mentioned above there is only a haphazard inspection regime from a land based National park over 60 miles distant whereas what is required is at least one permanent warden based on the Great Blasket island all year around and preferably two for safety reasons and going to / from the outlying islands; and perhaps an International Bird Observatory set up on the Great Blasket Island - the most westerly island chain on continental Europe - and a beginning made of an accurate count of the rich and diverse birdlife on the islands so that a base line can be established for each species and its habitat and niche requirements identified.

 

2. ELIMINATION OF AMERICAN MINK [NEOVISION VISION] FROM GREAT BLASKET ISLAND

 

 A token programme was set up to get rid of the American mink [Neovision vision] which were introduced to the Great Blasket Island some years ago and have since increased and multiplied. This occasional programme was discontinued in 2014 when concerns were expressed about animal welfare issues and non attendance of set traps. The programme has now totally stopped and a total eradication programme urgently needs to be set up to protect the ground nesting birds on the Great Blasket island because if the Americam mink present on the Great Blasket spread to the other more inaccessible islands it will be an environmental disaster equivalent to the "Tory Canyon" hitting the islands - EVERY YEAR.

We accept the animal welfare issues involved and that the American mink have their place in our environment, albeit as an invasive species but not much unlike most of our own wildlife, including ourselves, who arrived after the last ice age just 18,000 years ago; apart from a few notable endemic exceptions who managed to survive sticking their heads out from the tops of our mountain peaks which stuck out from the glacial landscape then prevailing e.g. Irish mountain hare - Lepidus timidus hibernicus.

We believe that the mink can be humanely trapped, with traps regularly attended by professional trappers (we are willing to play our part) and brought to the mainland unharmed to the local vet for humane euthanasia or to some animal sanctuary, and this programme needs to start immediately if the bird life of the Blaskets is to be preserved and protected as required by European Environmental Law.

 

3. GRASS GRAZING REGIMES ON BEGINISH AND GREAT BLASKET ISLAND - AN BLASCAOD MÓR

 

Beginish island, the small flat uninhabited island a few hundred metres east of the Great Blasket Island, was the original Blasket island nominated as an SPA mainy because of the approximate 200 Greenland white-fronted geese that grazed there every winter on the long grass after the islanders abandoned their houses  and remaining sheep in 1953. It also then supported a large breeding flock of Arctic tern during the summer months which are now decimated to a few remaining pairs nesting on nearby rocks e.g. Oileán na n-Óg and Oileán Buí where they cannot be disturbed by the dogs associated with the all year round sheep farming now taking place there. It is also the breeding ground to three red listed birds - Leach's petrel; Herring gull (whose eggs are broken by grazing sheep and marauding dogs); and Meadow pipet.

The grass grazing regime on Beginish urgently needs to be restored to that prevailing at the time the islanders abandoned the islands (zero grazing) as the National and International value of the birdlife there is immeasurable compared to the scrawny flock of sheep that now annually overgraze this immensely important European SPA and former over-wintering spot for (200) Greenland white fronted geese, the iconic logo of the Irish bird watching and bird protection society BirdWatch Ireland.

On the other hand the grass grazing regime needs to be increased on the Great Blasket by the addition of Kerry cattle or Kerry ponies to compensate for the lack of grazing by sufficient numbers of sheep to protect the impoverished flora for which it is designated an SAC and also the habitat of the Chough and other fauna associated with a tightly grazed sward and impoverished maritime habitat ( the opposite of the grazing requirements for nearby Beginish)

All of these issues, including the rights of stakeholders and the achievement of a natural balance and appropriate grazing regimes for different islands could be adequately addressed within a comprehensive Blasket Islands SAC and SPA Management Plan.

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