The Shannon Callows Breeding Wader Project

The Shannon Callows Breeding Wader Project, funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service began in 2005 with the aim of maintaining and restoring populations of breeding waders - Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe - in the Shannon Callows SPA. These birds are an integral part of the wildlife of the area - the Callows once held one of the largest populations on lowland wet grassland in Ireland and the UK. Sadly numbers fell drastically between 1987 and 2002, Lapwing by 82%, Redshank by 71% and Snipe and Curlew by 68 and 83% respectively.

The project consists of a voluntary grant scheme for farmers and selected habitat management at key sites. The grant scheme consists of two tiers; the breeding tier protects nests and chicks from agricultural damage during the breeding season; and the late tier which actively manages sites to ensure that the habitat is suitable for breeding the following spring. Approximately 210ha of land is currently under agreement.

In 2009, a series of works were undertaken, with the aim of improving breeding success on key sites. With funding from the Heritage Council, NPWS, BirdWatch Ireland and Galway County Council a fence was erected to exclude mammalian predators around one of our key breeding sites – Inishee Island, Co Galway. The fence has proven very successful and to date has not been breached by mammalian predators. After almost complete breeding failure in previous years, breeding for all species has proven successful, with 68-78% of pairs successfully fledging chicks each year; many pairs have been recorded as fledging three or four chicks.

Predator proof fence, Inishee Island © Kilian Kelly

Scrub encroachment on the Callows has lead to a deterioration and fragmentation of wader habitat at some sites. In Autumn 2009, tree and scrub removal was carried out on Inishee Island and adjacent Esker Island, and on one other site, Devenish Island. Lapwing and Redshank returned to breed on Esker Island for the first time in nearly 20 years, in 2010. Since then waders breeding on the island have successfully fledged chicks each year. 

Scrub removal Esker Island. Before © K Finney

Scrub removal Esker Island. Complete. © K Finney

Wader populations and productivity have been monitored on all 11 management areas since 2008 and results show that the total population in these areas increased year on year, until 2011 when it was shown to have declined. It is possible that the sever winter of 2010/2011 was a factor in the recorded decline. However, despite these declines the overall percentage of pair’s successfully hatching nests and in turn successfully fledging chicks has continued to increase each year since 2009.

The last complete breeding wader census was carried out in 1987. Consequently, there is no up to date information on wader numbers in the Callows or the sites on which they breed, outside of the key management areas. In 2010 and in the absence of a complete resurvey of the Callows, an additional 15 of the 27 wader census sites were surveyed for the presence of breeding waders. As expected, results from the 2010 survey show that the trend of decline has continued outside of management areas. Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe have all recorded declines of 96% and range contractions of 69%, 89% and 60% respectively (on 1987 figures). Despite declines of 89% Redshank range contractions appears not to be as severe as for the other three species, at only 23%. However, they are in imminent danger of being lost from a further 60% of sites surveys. Should this occur, range contraction will be closer to 77%.

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