Friday, 16 January 2009

Irish Reintroduction Project

Some years ago I was invited to visit Ireland as part of a feasibilty study for the possible reintroduction of Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major. The project then became embroiled in politics but recently there have been developments. Here is an up-date from Conor Kelleher of the IWT: 

"The IWT has been monitoring the recent sightings of great spotted woodpecker in Ireland with interest. Since 2005 the species has been seen in the east of the island in Cos. Antrim, Down, Dublin, Louth, Meath and Wicklow. These records began with single sightings but observations have increased and 2008 has resulted in unprecedented records. To date this year, twenty three sightings of great spotted woodpecker have been reported in the east of Ireland and these have included juvenile birds and behaviour such as courtship flight displays by adults and drumming by males. As well as these records, two birds were noted on off shore islands in spring providing evidence of movement of the species from Britain and/or mainland Europe. The occurrence of the species in spring and summer in Ireland and in increasing numbers over the last few years is a new and welcome development as the bird previously only occurred as individuals in the winter season. In addition, this year’s observations of both courtship displays and juvenile birds indicate that breeding may have taken place in Ireland for the first time in many centuries. As breeding of the species has potentially occurred, the IWT is suspending the present reintroduction plans to allow nature to take its course and will be monitoring the success of the species over the coming seasons. Although only a few juveniles have been seen and their fate is unknown at present, the IWT believes that it would be unethical to interfere with a successful natural re-colonisation of the island by the species if that is what is occurring. The appearance of the great spotted woodpecker so soon after the IWT proposed a reintroduction is surprising. It would appear that the recent upsurge in numbers of the woodpecker in Ireland and at the ‘right’ season to breed is a much welcome and delightful coincidence. There has been an obvious, glaring ecological niche to be filled in our woodlands due to the absence of woodpeckers since the loss of these birds centuries ago and, although the evidence for the great spotted woodpecker as a past Irish resident is scant, it does exist and there are Gaelic names and descriptions of the bird in historical literature. However, one of the most important pieces of evidence to be discovered was the bones of the great spotted woodpecker in a cave in County Clare. This is proof of predation on a local species as the right femurs of two great spotted woodpeckers were found and these were recently dated to the Bronze Age. The future expansion of the species would appear to be a given". 

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