Why planting trees could be bad for Ireland’s hen harriers – Irish Times, November 15 2018

The twists, tumbles and turns of a hen harrier’s sky dance are a spectacle not everyone has been lucky enough to witness in recent times. Yet while it exists only in poetry or memory for many, for others, the species remains centre-stage.

Undertaken by the Golden Eagle Trust, Irish Raptor Study Group (IRSG) and BirdWatch Ireland on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the fourth and most recent National Survey of Breeding Hen Harrier in Ireland in 2015 estimates that 108 to 157 breeding pairs remain. This represents an 8.7 per cent decline in confirmed and possible pairs since 2010.

Survey data, along with other research and the views of relevant sectors, have helped to inform a draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP), which aims to outline actions for securing the bird’s future. Prepared by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in cooperation with three other departments and a stakeholder consultative committee over five years, the draft plan was scheduled for public consultation in October.

However, the IRSG and BirdWatch Ireland – who are on the consultative committee – have expressed concern with the draft in its current form, saying it does not acknowledge scientific research. Chairman of the IRSG Ryan Wilson-Parr says their primary concern is a proposal to consider further afforestation within hen harrier special protection areas (SPAs).

“Habitat loss due to forestry is detrimental to the hen harrier so any further afforestation in protected areas, which already have 52 per cent forestry cover, isn’t going to help the hen harrier at all.”

Hen harriers breed in open, upland habitats including heather moor, bog and scrub. While they can use young conifer plantations for nesting and foraging, as plantations mature and the forest canopy closes, this habitat becomes unsuitable for nesting and hunting. There are also concerns over increased risk of predation for forest-nesting harriers. Forest maturation since SPA designation could explain why there are now more breeding harriers outside SPAs than within them.
‘Appropriate mechanism’
While saying a threat response plan is “an appropriate mechanism to implement effective conservation strategies for hen harrier”, raptor conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland John Lusby outlines similar concerns about non-native forestry. “In [the draft’s]current form, it leaves the door open for further afforestation and from a conservation point of view, that absolutely cannot happen.”

Both refer to research conducted by UCC, which found that hen harrier breeding success can decrease noticeably when the percentage of second rotation pre-thicket forest in the surrounding landscape is above 10 per cent. Another UCC study concludes that a maximum threshold of 40 per cent total forest cover within the SPA network is required to keep second rotation pre-thicket forest at this level.

Therefore, while forest removal and connecting foraging habitat can be beneficial, Lusby says forestry within SPAs is already too high to consider further planting.

Chair of the HHTRP, Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, says feedback received from all of the players involved in the plan is currently under review.

“What we have to do is work our way through them to do a complete reply to the committee. Where we have things we can do, we will do them,” says O’Keeffe, who underlines the plan must be science-based.

While he says it would be “premature” to comment on individual aspects of the draft version of the plan, O’Keeffe stresses that no submissions will be ignored, whether from landowners or environmental NGOs. However, he does note that the issue is complex and that accommodating everyone’s interests can be difficult.

Indeed, balancing all interests has been a notoriously hard task, as widely highlighted within the agricultural sector.

Since the designation of hen harrier SPAs in 2007, many of the approximately 4,000 farmers with designated land have been outspoken about their grievances. The reallocation of funding originally designated for landowners in Natura 2000 sites, and the later ban on new forestry within these areas, meant that their land was considered worthless.

Shane McAuliffe, who has farmland within the Stack’s to Mullaghareirk Mountains SPA, on the Limerick, Cork and Kerry borders, says farmers like himself have been left with no options. “We have this land and it just sits there, it’s worthless. In the past, I have applied for afforestation grants and it has been declined. We don’t even graze cattle on it, the land is so bad.”

Native forestry
McAuliffe notes the association between non-native forestry and hen harrier decline and says if permitted, he would only consider native forestry.

“I’d love to plant native oak or alder to give a bit of biodiversity to the area,” he says. “We have 20 acres of Sitka spruce on our land and I hate it. You go through it and there’s no wildlife, there’s nothing going underneath the forest canopy, it’s just dead.”

He feels the European Innovation Partnership locally-led Hen Harrier Project may provide hope to both farmers and the hen harrier. While he wasn’t accepted into the first round, he hopes to get into the next.

“What farmers would like to see is that the role that they play in enhancing the environment is properly rewarded,” says Gerry Gunning of the IFA, who’s also hopeful about the new project.

The €25 million pilot project, compatible with GLAS and GLAS + and funded under Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, financially rewards farmers who manage their land in a manner that benefits the hen harrier.

Just under 700 farmers have been offered contracts since it opened in December 2017, with up to 1,200 participants expected by next summer. The project is universally welcomed, though Lusby notes such schemes would provide greater landowner security and conservation benefits if it were long-term.
Discussion around hen harrier conservation isn’t limited to scientists, conservation groups and private landowners. Additionally, habitat change due to afforestation is only one known pressure, alongside agricultural intensification, upland burning, peat extraction, disturbance from wind turbines and illegal persecution, and pressures vary by region.

There’s also still plenty we don’t know. While the focus within SPAs is breeding hen harriers, O’Keeffe and Wilson-Parr both note we need more research on hen harriers in their wintering sites.

Looking ahead and working together is clearly what’s needed to increase hen harrier numbers but whether that’s possible remains up in the air.

Birds in bloom
On a visit to the Slieve Bloom Mountains, it’s quite possible to avoid seeing another being for miles. Forestry extends across the slopes; in fact, it covers 62.8 per cent of the SPA.

Considering what’s known about the hen harrier and forestry, it’s surprising to see in the 2015 survey, National Survey of Breeding Hen Harrier in Ireland, that breeding pairs in this SPA have increased. However, this is likely due to the existence of protected heather moorland habitat, where the majority of pairs have been nesting.

“This SPA has a nature reserve taking up a big part of it so it is managed optimally, whereas in many others, this is not the case,” says O’Keeffe.

Lusby echoes this, saying this SPA should be looked at in isolation.

“In one way, it does show that the population will respond to positive management but it’s not possible to compare like for like.”

(First published in the Irish Times on November 15 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/why-planting-trees-could-be-bad-for-ireland-s-hen-harriers-1.3694928)

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Planning Your New York City, USA Trip – Zafigo.com, November 14 2018

New York City (NYC) is famously known as ‘The City that Never Sleeps’, and if you try to partake in all the activities and going-ons it has to offer within a week or so, you’re unlikely to sleep either. The opportunities here are endless, so if you’re heading to NYC for a short stint, it’s worth researching and coming up with a game plan. These tips will help you to make the most of your time in the Big Apple:

Travel wise

Tempting as it is to act like they do in the movies, avoid travelling by yellow taxi when getting around NYC. Not only are they expensive, they’re likely to get you stuck in traffic and waste valuable time.

Instead, opt for the subway, which can bring you all around the city and its outskirts quickly and at any time. It’s worth buying an unlimited MetroCard (USD32 for seven days) rather than forking out approximately USD3 for individual journeys. The subway has the added bonus of free entertainment as the carriages and the stations often make the backdrop for buskers like musicians, stand-up acts, and dancers.

Walking is also a fantastic way to explore as it allows you to take in all of the sights and sounds of this diverse city. Though don’t expect to be able to walk around the whole thing – it’s 784 kilometres² after all!

Get some perspective

It’s difficult to get an idea of the sheer size of NYC when you’re standing in Times Square with skyscrapers on all sides. Not until you take a step back (or up) will you be able to truly appreciate it.

Many people choose to gaze down at the world below from the top deck of the Empire State Building, but it’s not the only place to catch a good view. The Top of the Rock observation deck at the Rockefeller Centre and the One World Trade Centre Observatory are other popular choices, while rooftop bars including The Standard and Le Bain are also aplenty.

For skyline shots, take an unmissable sunset stroll along the Brooklyn Bridge or at the elevated park known as the High Line. Both are a photographer’s dream! Taking NYC in from the water with the Statue of Liberty in the background is another magical experience. While there are plenty of boat tours on offer, the Staten Island Ferry is free to travel on and captures the city skyline at its best.

Dress for comfort

With so much to see, you’ll probably only return to your room to sleep and shower, so dressing appropriately is key. Temperatures often plummet in the winter time, so if you’re visiting around Christmas, be sure to pack a good coat and some winter woollies. Summer in the city is hot, so light clothing is best, though rain showers will happen so do pack a raincoat or umbrella. Regardless of the season, the most important item you can bring is comfortable shoes. Subway pass or not, you will be clocking up a lot of steps. Be prepared!

Get out of town

There’s so much more to NYC than Manhattan. Use your time wisely and check out some of the other boroughs such as Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, and Staten Island, to name a few. You can even combine your city slicker trip with a beach break as NYC has plenty of sandy shorelines.

When you need a break from city life, there are also plenty of breath-taking hiking trails and state parks within two hours of the city. Check out Minnewaska State Park Reserve or tackle one of the Catskill Mountains in the southeast of New York state.

Save on sights

NYC is known for being expensive to visit, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you plan to see most of the major attractions, buy a New York Pass, which will give you savings on most of them. There are several free walking tours on offer for those who want local insight into the city, while some museums and attractions are free on certain days of the week.

This site gives a good overview of what sites/activities are free and when. For me, the best thing to do in the Big Apple is explore the streets and laze in the city’s beautiful parks while watching the world go by. Nobody’s going to charge you a dime for that.

For cheap grub, sites like Living Social and restaurants.com always have ongoing deals, while international site mealsharing.com allows tourists to find locals willing to host people for affordable dinners at their homes. Cheap homemade food and some new local friends? It’s a win-win!

Game on

It doesn’t matter if you’re a sports fan or completely clueless to the rules. Attending a sports game is still going to be a fun-filled experience. Visitors between April and October/ November can take advantage of baseball season while winter time sees the kick-off of the American football games. Of course, there are plenty of others sports you can watch, including basketball and soccer. Fixtures for all are easy to find online. With a hotdog in one hand and a humungous beverage in the other, you’re all set!

If you prefer a more casual and free experience, head to the playing fields in Central Park. Fancy having a shot yourself? At Chelsea Piers, you can show off your batting skills in their baseball cages, or have a go at an alternative activity such as rock climbing.

Show time

No visit to NYC is complete without seeing a show on Broadway. There’s literally something for everyone. If you aren’t fussed about planning in advance, do some research on a few shows you want to see, and head along to one of the TDF TKTS Booths on the day. This is where you can avail of a selection of show tickets at a fraction of their regular price.

Here in NYC, top class talent spills far beyond the Broadway stages. Subway stations, Central Park, Times Square, and basically any busy public space are guaranteed to play host to some interesting performers, while the city is also brimming with comedy clubs, jazz and blues bars (like the legendary Blue Note), open mic nights, and smaller gigs.

Enjoy the scenery

The Big Apple isn’t just dazzling lights and towering concrete buildings. Believe it or not, it’s actually home to some beautiful natural spaces, the most obvious one is Central Park. Though an obvious choice to visit, I promise it’s as good as they say. Even those who frequent the park during their trip are bound to find a new corner or interesting sight each time.

Prospect Park, the High Line, Hudson River Park, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden on Staten Island are just some of the others on offer. While the complete opposite of green and serene, perching yourself on the steps at Times Square for a while is certainly going to afford you some unique sights too. Enjoy the view and people watch.

Make a meal of it

New York City’s definitely not the place to go on a diet. When it comes to food, if you want something, you can find it. But I suggest you make like a local and grab a slice of pizza from one of the city’s thousands of pizza parlours. There’s plenty of debate online over who makes the best one but I’d argue that most are delicious. If you fancy something more upmarket than a sidewalk slice, head to trendy Roberta’s – a famous bar and pizzeria in Brooklyn for a full pizza and a candlelit drink.

The city’s bagel shops, diner grub, Italian fare in Little Italy, and a refreshing acai bowl are all worth sampling, while a cookie from Levain Bakery has my vote as one of the best baked goods ever. Don’t believe me? Oprah, Neil Patrick Harris, and Taylor Swift are all firm fans.

If you don’t know what you feel like, Greenwich Village has plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, while the food halls at Chelsea Market and the Plaza will certainly stir up an appetite.

Tip right

It’s not just a rumour; you’re really expected to tip in NYC. While sometimes this is added to your bill, other times you’ll need to figure it out on your own. A general rule of thumb is to tip 15 to 20 per cent of your total bill to taxi drivers, bartenders, and waiters, as well as for room service. You can tip more if you feel the service was exceptional.

The idea of tipping regardless of the service or meal is bizarre to many, but just go with it. Many service industry workers are paid well below the minimum wage, so tipping is the only way for them to make their jobs profitable.

(First published on Zafigo.com on November 14 2018. Available online at: https://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/women-travelling-new-york-city/)

Turning the tide on plastic pollution – Irish Examiner, November 12 2018

Seal Rescue Ireland’s innovative way to remove plastics from the sea is a step-up in their conservancy work, writes Amy Lewis

From a corner of north Wexford, a team of dedicated environmentalists are working towards, quite literally, building a better future for our planet and its inhabitants.

As resident volunteers at Seal Rescue Ireland — a registered charity established to rescue, rehabilitate and release sick, injured and orphaned seal pups — they’ve seen first-hand the effects that human activity is having on marine life. The threat of plastic pollution, famously highlighted in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, is something to which Irish common and grey seals are not immune.

Such threats and what we can do to prevent them is something the team are keen to highlight to visitors at their rescue and rehabilitation centre in Courtown, Wexford. During my own visit, Seal Rescue Ireland Executive Director Melanie Croce tells me the story of a grey seal pup and former centre resident named Karma.

“Karma looked like she was in good condition. She was nice and fat with no visible injuries but she had some strange behaviours. In the end, she passed away.”

A necropsy at UCD’s School of Veterinary Medicine generated a stark conclusion. What had cost Karma her life was an item so commonplace, disposable and harmless to humans: a single crisp packet.

“As it turns out, she had a crisp packet blocking her intestines,” explains Melanie, pointing out how the reflective surface of a crisp packet can mimic that of a fish. “Seals are opportunistic feeders. They’ll eat anything they can get their teeth on, whether it’s crab, squid or fish. Now that there’s more plastic in their environment, they’re mistaking it for food and eating it.” Similarly to all soft plastics, crisp packets are not recyclable in Ireland. Even when disposed of correctly, they can easily get swept out into the ocean and cause harm to marine life, says Melanie.

“The best thing we can do is cut down our use of plastics,” she says.

Using your purchasing power to support markets that don’t use unnecessary packaging is important as we try to work towards a better environment.

Until we further develop novel eco-friendly alternatives, non-biodegradable single-use plastics will still exist. However, Seal Rescue Ireland has adopted an innovative way to put unavoidable plastics to good use. Known as Ecobricks, this simple building material consists of large plastic bottles which have been tightly packed with soft plastics.

“Firstly, making Ecobricks stops the plastic from going out into the environment. Secondly, it is upcycling it into something useful and finally, it makes you very aware of every single piece of non-biodegradable piece of plastic you will use because you have to stuff it into a brick,” says Melanie, stressing that the Ecobrick is not their own invention.

To date, these surprisingly heavy “bricks” have been used by the team to make sturdy furniture such as stools. Looking into the future, they also hope to use them to make benches and as the building blocks of a second rescue facility in Ireland.

To do so, they will utilise any plastic collected from their volunteer houses nearby, where between 15 and 20 volunteers reside while working at the centre. Additionally, they’re accepting Ecobricks from members of the public keen to put their waste to good use. In order to be deemed acceptable, these bricks must be made from 1.7 or two-litre plastic bottles densely packed with as much clean, soft plastic as they can hold. Water bottles will not be accepted.

“You have to make sure you get rid of all of the open spaces because they will compromise the integrity of the brick,” says Melanie.

Seal Rescue Ireland hope to eventually run public workshops on Ecobrick making. In the meantime, there are various tutorials and videos available online.

Entanglement in discarded fishing line, which cuts into skin and blubber as they grow, is another major threat to pups. Poor water quality from pollution and raw sewage discharge is also problematic, as are dog attacks.

Extreme weather conditions are placing additional pressures on seals, particularly during breeding season. Vulnerable pups resting on the shore are knocked against rocks, separated from their mother or drowned during heavy storms.

Additionally, depleting fish stocks are forcing seals worldwide to travel further to find food. As a result, they often don’t have the energy to provide pups with the fat-rich milk they require and may abandon them.

Well-intentioned humans can also cause harm. Although pups rest on land, bypassers may mistake it for being ill or orphaned and approach it. Watching mothers may abandon the pup as a result.

“We advise people to stay two hundred metres away. If you think it needs help, call our rescue hotline number and don’t try to take matters into your own hands,” says Melanie.

All of these threats and how to minimise them are communicated to schoolchildren in Seal Rescue Ireland’s Marine Conservation Roadshows, as well as during school tours to the centre.

“Kids are amazing and absorb everything,” says Melanie. “If we can get them to care about this, then future world leaders will care about this.” Seal Rescue Ireland also runs daily public tours and facilitates corporate days at the centre.

The organisation currently has 800 trained volunteers around the country, who are ready to assist if a seal is in peril. This growing network have been vital in assisting with the increasing number of seal pups requiring rescuing. Indeed, intakes are rapidly rising, a trend Melanie says is largely due to weather conditions. In 2013, the centre took in 62 pups compared to a record 145 last year.

Through working with everyone to create a safer marine environment, they hope to minimise the number of seal casualties.

“We’re in the business of wanting to put ourselves out of business. We are rehabbing seals but if we can educate people and keep the marine environment safe and sustainable, there are fewer seals that need to come in,” says Melanie.

Seal Rescue Ireland’s Centre is open to the public daily.

Seal Rescue Ireland operate a 24/7 rescue hotline on 087 195 5393.

http://www.sealrescueireland.org

http://www.ecobricks.org

(First published in the Irish Examiner on November 12 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/seal-rescue-irelands-plan-to-turn-the-tide-on-plastic-pollution-884672.html)

Ireland’s Wildlife Warriors – Sunday Business Post, November 4 2018

Across the country, there’s a network of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to help some of our most vulnerable neighbours.

Late-night feeds, cuts and scratches and constant goodbyes go hand-in-hand with their largely voluntary roles but neither this, nor juggling tasks with full-time jobs, families or other life responsibilities, deters them from their mission.

Indeed, Ireland’s wildlife rehabilitators are a determined and passionate bunch and this shone through at the recent Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference at Rock Farm in Slane. Organised by Emma Higgs and her team at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) – an organisation established to promote wildlife rehabilitation and support rehabilitators – the event pulled together carers from Ireland and the UK to share their stories and knowledge.

Those familiar with the insomnia that can accompany human newborns may not entertain the idea of interrupting a good night’s sleep to feed a furry or feathered friend. So what drives wildlife rehabilitators? Bray-based veterinarian Dr Pete Wedderburn, aka “Pete the Vet”, outlined his own motivations in his talk on why it’s worth rescuing wildlife.

“The first reason for me is compassion for the individual creature,” says Wedderburn, who regularly sees wildlife patients at the BrayVet clinic. Concern for endangered species, picking up new skills to help other endangered creatures later on and raising awareness about the environment are some of the other reasons that Wedderburn is willing to treat wildlife. He also feels it helps to promote kindness in our society.

“The message of being kind to animals does eventually change our culture.”

Deciding whether to rehabilitate a sick or injured animal goes far beyond a love for wildlife, as stressed by all rehabilitators throughout the day. With each creature that comes their way, comes an ethical conundrum: should we leave the animal alone, try to heal it or consider euthanasia? Whatever the answer, the welfare of the individual animal and the likelihood of a successful release is key.

This is emphasised by vet Dr Liz Mullineaux in her own speech. She cites a definition of wildlife rehabilitation as the ‘treatment and temporary care of injured, diseased, and displaced indigenous animals, and the subsequent release of healthy animals to appropriate habitats in the wild.’

“Rehabilitation is not about captive animals. You need to keep that at the back of your mind at all times,” says Mullineaux, an experienced vet and Scientific Advisor to Secret World Wildlife Rescue.

There’s a fine line between wildlife rehabilitation and interfering with nature. While well-intentioned, members of the public often pick up animals they perceive to be orphans, unaware that the mother is nearby. Additionally, sometimes a single orphan is abandoned by a mother who is aware that it’s unlikely to survive.

“We should only take an animal from the wild when absolutely necessary,” founder of Secret World Wildlife Rescue Pauline Kidner tells us, adding that we should really only interfere when a casualty is rooted in human rather than natural causes.

For the less-experienced, whether or not to intervene can be a difficult call to make. This is why observing an animal and liaising with those with wildlife knowledge is critical before a creature is moved.

Observing for blood, limb injuries, vision problems or breathing difficulties, as well as noting whether an animal is conscious, are just some of the things that can be noted down according to Mullineaux. These observations also apply to birds, as can fluffed up feathers and poor feather quality.

Not all potential patients are found at the roadside, as outlined in RSPCA Wildlife Veterinary Officer David Couper’s informative talk on seal rehabilitation. Does the seal have injuries; is it struggling to breathe; how alert is it and is the mother nearby are all questions that should be asked. Hydration levels can also be determined, according to Couper, who explains that a healthy seal will have tears flowing down its face when on land.

Deciding whether to rehabilitate an animal yourself or pass it on to others is largely dependent on experience, time commitment and resources at hand. Additionally, rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence in Ireland. For those who can’t tick these boxes, it’s usually in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to a trained individual or organisation as soon as possible. The Irish Wildlife Matters website contains a list of Ireland’s wildlife-friendly vets and rehabilitators who are happy to advise on safe transportation and take in casualties.

However, having a university degree in a wildlife-related discipline isn’t essential for those who wish to become wildlife rehabilitators. So how can people get involved?

“People who want to get involved have natural empathy for animals anyway. But obviously, the best thing to do is come to a day like today so you can pick up advice and make contact with people who are going to help you,” Kidner tells me. “You’re going to start by deciding what your ethics are going to be. You have to decide whether you believe in euthanasia or not because that is the hardest question you are going to have. And you have to decide how you are going to do it because it can cost a lot of money.”

For those who do want to become a rehabilitator, WRI runs two-day Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation courses throughout the year, explains WRI chairperson Heidi Bedell. Such courses, in addition to the organisations, vets and other trained rehabilitators who donate their time for free, currently form the backbone of wildlife rehabilitation in Ireland.

“In Ireland, we don’t have any location that anyone can bring or send wildlife to for something more serious like surgery or rehabilitation,” Bedell tells me.

This is all set to change. WRI are planning the establishment of a large National Wildlife Rehabilitation and Teaching Hospital. Based at a site in Fingal due to be donated by Fingal County Council following the completion of a feasibility study, it will contain enclosures and pools for animals, a conference space, an educational visitor centre and accommodation for volunteers.

“It will also be a very valuable asset for universities,” explains Bedell. “We would hope to have students coming from universities who are studying some aspect of wildlife rehabilitation or veterinary practice. This could be a place where they can live and have stations where they can study and record wildlife.”

WRI will be seeking various sources of funding for the hospital going forward.

Speaking after the conference, Director of WRI Aideen Magee tells me that such an event is important for spreading the word about wildlife rehabilitation.

“We have everyone at it, from members of the public right up to people who do this as a profession,” says Magee, also a wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit. “The more people we have in the community who are aware of wildlife rehabilitation, what it is and how to get involved, the more animals we can help.”

Attendees at the conference all have their own backgrounds and unique motivations. Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker and his colleague and Wildlife Liaison Officer Garda Sharon McGinty came as they’re often called upon to assist with injured wildlife.

“Deer mortality is a problem, particularly at this time of year because you have the rut on,” says Walker. “Motorists should exercise care, courtesy and common sense.”

Walker also has much experience in tackling wildlife crime. In December, An Garda Síochána will run a training course to equip specially-appointed inspectors from each division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime. These inspectors will work alongside the NPWS.

It’s obvious that becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires much time and commitment. Yet, final speaker of the day Mary Reynolds gives a simple message that everyone can take on board: look after the land that supports us and our wildlife.

“Rewild and remagic your garden,” says the award-winning gardener and author. “Allow it to become what it wants to become.”

Bedell hopes the key take-home message from the conference is one of kindness.

“Do we want to live in a world where it’s quite ok to see other creatures suffering? I don’t want to live in that kind of world, I don’t want my children to be brought up in that world,” she tells me. “I would like to promote that idea that it’s good to make that effort. Do stop, do get out, do help that animal that’s injured. It’s kind and that’s the world that we want to go into.”

TAKING ACTION

Director of WRI and wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit Aideen Magee has a wealth of experience in dealing with wildlife casualties, from rescuing injured otters to nursing baby birds in her box room at home. For members of the public, who might be uncertain what to do if they find an injured or ill animal, she recommends taking the following steps.

“The very first thing is to ensure your own personal safety because if you end up becoming a casualty yourself, you’re no good to yourself or the animal either. Look at the context that you find the animal in. If it’s on the side of a motorway, always make sure it’s safe to stop and intervene,” she says.

“The next thing to do is to observe the animal for a while and see does it actually need intervention or not,” she continues, adding that sometimes seemingly abnormal behaviour is completely natural. “Particularly if they are in an area in which they are more habituated to people, they might not have the fight or flight response.”

If in any doubt whatsoever, she advises visiting the Irish Wildlife Matters website, finding your nearest wildlife-friendly vet or rehabilitator and contacting them for advice. When it’s something straightforward, they could guide you through how to safely handle that animal and transport it to the nearest expert. Otherwise, they might send out an experienced volunteer to assess and assist with the situation.

“If you’re a member of the public and haven’t handled these animals before, never try to do so on your own without getting expert guidance first,” says Magee. “If you don’t have somebody near you on that list, just look up your local vet. They may have contact numbers of somebody else who can offer guidance and assistance.”

(First published in the Sunday Business Post on November 4 2018. Available online at: https://www.businesspost.ie/magazine/irelands-wildlife-warriors-429332)

Curlew task force is on a mission to restore threatened wader bird – Irish Examiner, November 1 2018

The evocative cry of the curlew is a memory of summers past for many in rural Ireland.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s breeding curlew population has plummeted by 96% since the 1980s, so this memory isn’t shared by younger generations.

Loss and fragmentation of its habitats are the main reason why this ground-nesting bird is now on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

These reasons were in turn driven by factors such as drainage and restriction of bogland, agricultural intensification, unmanaged upland burning, land abandonment and afforestation.

Such habitat changes increased vulnerability to predation, further diminishing numbers. Fewer than 150 breeding curlew pairs remain.

That may surprise those who have seen curlew flocks in recent months. However, these are likely to be migrants arriving from Scotland and Scandanavia, from July until the spring. Breeding pairs, on the other hand, can be spotted in April, May and June and are identified by their distinctive bubbling call and circular display flight.

Surveys by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) in 2011 and 2015/2016, plus many calls for action, underpinned the decision by Minister Heather Humphreys to establish a curlew task force in 2017. This task force brings together stakeholders to make decisions aimed at saving the curlew. Established separately but running in parallel is the NPWS Curlew Conservation Programme, focused on monitoring and improving habitats in seven key sites for breeding curlew.

This year’s cold winter and summer drought were particularly difficult for curlews.

 

In monitored sites, 19 chicks were confirmed to have fledged in 45 territories, in 2018. While this may appear low, Barry O’Donoghue, who manages the Curlew Conservation Programme, says it’s “within the range for maintaining a stable population” and an improvement on the first year’s results.

“Compared to projects in the UK with similar numbers of territories, they had zero chicks produced, so we are hopeful that we have begun to see a turnaround in fortunes for the curlew,” he says.

“It won’t be easy, but we have made a good start and in some areas we have actually seen an increase in breeding numbers.”

Independent curlew task force chair Alan Lauder also notes an improvement on previous years, saying we should monitor what is happening at the most successful sites and learn from them.

He says, as monitored sites don’t contain the whole population of breeding curlew in Ireland, there were potentially more chicks elsewhere.

Senior conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland Anita Donaghy says the results are “mildly encouraging” but echoes the sentiment that we have a long way to go.

“Farmers are the number one land managers when it comes to curlew in Ireland,” says O’Donoghue.

Indeed, farmers have been heavily involved in curlew conservation, in the many agri-environment schemes and in task force discussions.

For example, farmers with curlew in their area were prioritised for entry into GLAS, and the opportunity to get €5,000 annually for avoiding damaging activities and promoting suitable habitat.

The Curlew Conservation Programme has established curlew action teams, with advisers, curlew champions, and nest protection officers, in each monitored area.

Comprising people from various backgrounds, these teams work with the community and landowners to monitor sites and improve habitats.

Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) was launched in December to improve breeding habitats for curlew and other species.

Supported by the EU, the €4.9m project aims to restore 2,228 hectares of blanket bog in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“As part of this, BirdWatch Ireland is implementing a small number of management agreements directly with farmers who have breeding waders, including curlew, on their lands,” says Donaghy.

“We provide advice, pay them for basic habitat measures and have the facility to pay for capital works programmes.”

June 2018 saw the completion of the Results Based Agri-environment Pilot Scheme (RBAPS) in Leitrim and the Shannon Callows. Predominantly funded by the EU, it rewarded participating farmers for biodiversity measures on their land.

Looking ahead, a three-year Irish curlew breeding European Innovation Partnership trial (EIP) will soon commence in southern Lough Corrib and south Leitrim.

Overseen by BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Irish Grey Partridge Trust,and Teagasc, it will focus on training and assisting farmers in predator control, says INHFA vice president and EIP operational group member Henry O’Donnell, a cattle and sheep farmer in Co Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula.

“This is going to be a source of income for farmers and will supplement their conventional agriculture.”

Longer-term schemes would be extremely beneficial going forward, says Lauder.

“Curlew have large territories and often move big distances between farms,” he says. “It would be encouraging to have a scheme promoting a level of integration between neighbouring farmers.”

Agri-environment schemes are praised by O’Donnell, but he hopes other factors don’t override their success.

One of his concerns is the push for agricultural intensification, which he says is driven by Teagasc’s farm advisory services, Harvest 2020, and “other objectives not in keeping with sustainable agriculture”.

“Farmers should be advised that if you kept less animals in a less intensive situation, it would be better for conservation, better for your bank account and more sustainable for the environment.”

“The basis for environmental schemes and protection of endangered birds is to provide a suitable habitat and try to increase their numbers.

“That ignores the reality of things like predators, and the fact that blanket afforestation with conifers has provided an ideal habitat for predators.

“That is as much an issue in the decline of the bird species that we are concerned with as is producing a suitable environment for them.”

For Donaghy, agri-environment schemes like GLAS need to employ ecologists giving specialist advice to farmers, something she says proved very beneficial in RBAPS.

“That’s really going to improve results on the ground in terms of better habitats and better nesting conditions.”

While glad to see the curlew issue addressed by the Government, she’s equally “dismayed” that calls for action were responded to so late, saying that the curlew’s situation would be better if action had been taken “even five years ago”.

However, Donaghy is “cautiously hopeful” that efforts from all sectors can improve the bird’s prospects, and says, we “must not give up”.

Working with Nature

The Curlew Conservation Programme focuses on seven key areas for breeding curlew: Lough Ree, Lough Corrib, Stacks Mountains, north Roscommon, Leitrim, Monaghan and Donegal. Pat Devaney, who farms along the shores of Lough Ree in Roscommon, is one of the many participants. Through his involvement, he worked alongside NPWS ecologists to carry out habitat improvement measures on his land; these including clearing shrub to create open habitat for breeding curlew and erecting a predator-proof fence.

“I have been aware for some time of how sensitive the area where I farm is to the wading birdlife such as the curlew, geese and lapwing,” says Devaney, who farms suckler cows, sheep and ponies on his farm based in the townlands of Cloonmore, Clooneskert and Rinanny. “It’s an SAC area and I participate in GLAS which is a great scheme. When approached by the NPWS to restore the area to its former glory and the natural habitat for these birds, local farmers and the NPWS have cooperated very well, each realising the important role we both have in ensuring that farming and wildlife can co-exist in harmony. I was delighted to take part.”

(First published in the Irish Examiner on November 1 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/farming/curlew-task-force-is-on-a-mission-to-restore-threatened-wader-bird-882531.html)

Food waste and circular economies – The Ecologist, October 11 2018

The idea that one man’s trash is another’s treasure has been thrown around for decades, but could taking it literally help to tackle food waste?

Approximately 88 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU annually and the consequences seep far beyond homes, businesses and landfill sites.

Along with associated economic losses, and the ethical matter of disposing food in a world where eleven percent of the population are undernourished, wasting food amounts to a huge squandering of natural resources.

Through committing to UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, the EU endeavours to halve food waste at consumer and retail level by 2030 and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. The establishment of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste bolstered this goal, but novel approaches are needed to support a growing population .

Avoidable waste

This circular economy model aims to reduce waste streams by reusing waste as a resource elsewhere.

The EU aims to transition towards this in many areas and in their Action Plan for the Circular Economy, it’s potential for food waste mitigation is recognised.

The circular economy model can apply to food waste but it’s not a one-size fits all solution. Determining the type of food waste involved is key to deciding the most appropriate way to deal with it according to Eoin White, a Research Development Specialist with AgroCycle – a Horizon 2020 funded project addressing agri-food waste.

White explained: “Residue is used to define unavoidable waste, such as fruit skins. They’re a natural part of producing food. The other is wasted food and that’s very much leftovers; things that should and can be eaten but due to consumer behaviour, poor storage and management practices, end up becoming waste.”

While unavoidable food waste can have high value secondary uses, the focus for tackling avoidable waste should first be on prevention: “If the goal is just to utilise this wasted food elsewhere, there’s no incentive to reduce it.”

Loop logic

Hilke Bos-Brouwers, senior Scientist Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University and Research, said: “Once this distinction is made, it’s important to seek out the best possible new destination for a waste stream.”

Bos-Brouwers, a scientific coordinator for the FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising waste prevention Strategies) and REFRESH projects, said: “With unavoidable food waste, we must valorise it with the highest value possible. You can interpret value on many levels but it basically involves keeping it as close to food as you can.”

If not fit for human consumption, high value applications could include animal feed, biomaterials, and ingredients. While recognising the potential to convert food waste to bioenergy and compost, Bos-Brouwers says it shouldn’t be the first resort.

Prioritising high value applications forms the basis of the cascading principle ̶ an idea that prioritises material uses for biomass before energy uses to prevent raw materials being lost.

White explained: “You could take potato peel, burn it and get a little bit of energy. Technically that’s recycling. But there’s a lot of value in that potato peel. You should try to take as much as you can from it and when everything is taken out, then you can burn or compost it.”

Integrated approach

The circular economy model aims to mitigate waste by creating closed loop systems, but how wide that loop is drawn varies. Internal loops may be preferable as they can ensure resources are conserved with given product lifecycles.

Food waste occurs at production, retail and consumer levels and the circular economy approach can be integrated at all stages.

For example, AgroCycle is partnered with Fraunhofer in Germany, IPCF-CNR Institute in Italy, and Demeter in Greece to help develop innovative products such as straws and cups using potato pulp and rice bran fibres from the agri-food industry, notes White.

Bos-Brouwers noted that innovations also happen where supply chain partners meet up. Her Wageningen UR team provided the example of a retail franchiser and a catering expert who recognised the potential to work together and were supported with knowledge on supply chains, logistics, legislative issues and business models. They founded a company that repurposes retail and food processors surplus into marketable products. Based in the Netherlands, this successful initiative is now known as De Verspillingsfabriek.

Households generate over half of the EU’s food waste and while its inconsistent nature make it difficult to find high value applications, apps such as OLIO allow consumers to share their unwanted food.

Instilling confidence

The recently revised EU Waste Framework Directive now includes a definition for food waste but a level of ambiguity still remains.

Bos-Brouwers said: “In the definition, when something becomes waste, it’s with the intention or the action to discard. Yet, if some entrepreneurs want to collaborate using the sideflow of one company as a resource of the other, they could run into permit problems trying to transport the sideflow as they’re not a waste management company.”

Instilling trust in new approaches to food waste can also be challenging. White added: “I don’t think you get the multiplier effect if it’s only enforced. It’s important to find the right nudges or confidence levels with the [large groups involved] to get them on board.”

“The research community plays a vital role, not by making this more complex, but by investigating what can be done with a fresh look.”

Introducing standards for material passports would help to instil trust within producers and consumers, who may be uncertain how a material created from biomaterials compares to its traditional counterpart.

Shared responsibility

While finding new destinations for unavoidable food waste is celebrated, food waste prevention when possible is preferable.

A study conducted by Oldfield and colleagues at University College Dublin found that food waste minimisation results in the greatest reduction of global warming, acidification and eutrophication potential when compared with other food waste management approaches.

Lisa Ruetgers, who is currently doing a PhD in food waste and market solutions in Coventry University argued that “everybody is responsible food waste reduction.”

Checking the fridge before shopping, sharing or freezing leftovers and purchasing imperfect produce can help at consumer level, while retailers can offer imperfect items, avoid overstocking shelves and inform consumers of best storage practices. Legislation is also very important.

Ruetgers added: “All approaches are needed and need to be aligned, ideally top-down as well as bottom-up. I don’t think you can blame just one part or solve the problem by just one approach.”

(First published by theeoclogist.org on October 11 2018. Available online at: https://theecologist.org/2018/oct/11/food-waste-and-circular-economies)

Luggage in limbo – Zafigo.com, October 9 2018

You’ve spent days painstakingly washing clothes, folding everything neatly into your suitcase, and cramming in the essentials, only to arrive at your destination without your luggage in tow. Lost luggage is probably every traveller’s worst nightmare. However, as frustrating as it is to be the last person staring longingly at the luggage carousel, it’s important to not let the upset cloud your thinking. Knowing your passenger rights and responsibilities is key to resolving such a dilemma.

Make it known

Once you’re certain that your luggage is in limbo, the first thing to do is let your airline know at their information desk. You’ll be required to fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR), which must be filed before you leave the airport. This will commence the search for your luggage, and as you’ll be assigned a reference number, you can likely follow the report’s progress online.

Make sure to get a copy of the report as well, as this is usually required if you choose to file for compensation. If you’re reading this and have already left the airport without filling out a PIR, don’t despair! Contact the airport and airline as soon as possible to report the problem; but be sure to get written confirmation from them that you’ve done so.

Claim expenses

Under the international Montreal Convention, every passenger is eligible for compensation when a bag is lost, delayed, or damaged, regardless of whether or not they have travel insurance. What an airline will compensate for is usually limited to the cost of bare essentials (such as clothes, underwear, and toiletries) if your bag is delayed, repair costs if your luggage is damaged, and part of the cost of replacing belongings if your bag is declared officially lost after 21 days. How much you’ll receive depends on a number of factors.

When it comes to replacing delayed items, what is considered ‘essential’ is dependent on the airline’s policy, so get clued up on this (note: it’s probably not a new Chanel handbag). While some airlines will give you cash up front, others will ask you to make your purchases to be reimbursed later on. In the case of the latter, check the airline’s individual spending limit and keep receipts for all purchases.

Bad news for those who hate paperwork. The PIR is only intended to help you to trace your bag; a separate form must be filed in order to make a claim. If your bag is declared officially lost after 21 days, file a claim as soon as possible. However, if your bag is missing and later returned, you must write the claim within 21 days of receiving it. In the event your bag did arrive but is damaged, you must file a claim within seven days. A boarding card, receipts, luggage labels, your PIR form, a description of what happened, and photos of any damage will help you to make a claim.

Step it up

It’s impossible to predict how your airline will respond to your complaint or claim. If you’re not satisfied with their response, you are entitled to submit a complaint to your destination country’s aviation commission or airport authority. For instance, if you lost your luggage in Malaysia, you may make a complaint to the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) who will look into the matter further.

Damage control

Losing one’s luggage is never a part of a holiday itinerary. As it’s bound to happen sometimes, preparing for such a scenario can soften the blow if you’re unlucky enough to be affected. First, pack all medication and valuables in your hand luggage. A spare outfit is also a good addition if you’re parted from your travel wardrobe for some time. Take a photo of what’s inside your check-in luggage so that if your bag does go missing, you can check and prove whether its original contents are in it upon its return. If you have travel insurance, check your rights. Some policies will allow you to make a claim, and this may result in a better settlement than one you’d receive from the airline.

Enjoy your trip

While it may not be law, every traveller has the right to enjoy their holiday! Try not to let your luggage dilemma take over your trip. Carry out the necessary steps and then park the problem until you hear more. The situation may be out of your hands, but whether you choose to spend your trip moping around or making memories is completely down to you.

(First published on Zafigo.com on October 9 2018. Also available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/luggage-limbo-lost-delayed-damaged/ )