The past year has been unlike any we have ever known. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought lockdowns and social distancing and has altered our very way of life. In the midst of so much uncertainly, worry and solitude, more people than ever before have turned to nature and have found comfort in the natural world.

This has been borne out by the marked increase in emails we have been receiving to Mooney Goes Wild, many of which are from people who are discovering nature for the very first time. They have seen wild plants and animals before, of course, but until recently they hadn't really registered them or been curious to know more about them. Likewise, conservation charities such as BirdWatch Ireland have seen a rapid increase in membership, as the understanding of the importance of their work grows.

This new-found interest in wildlife was also evidenced recently by the overwhelming response to RTÉ’s Eye on Nature photo competition, which was run jointly by Mooney Goes Wild and the Today show and which focused primarily on photos taken in Ireland since COVID-19 first struck. We received over 7,000 entries from both amateur and professional photographers, which exceeded even our wildest expectations. Nature clearly occupies a special place in the nation’s heart.

During lockdown, many of us have also observed first-hand the effects that we humans have had on the creatures with which we share this planet, and also, when human activity stops for a while, how they can bounce back.

I am all too aware that with increased awareness of the damage we humans have caused to our planet comes a growing feeling of helplessness. Nature is being destroyed before our very eyes, and the overriding implication is that it is all very sad, but it is too late to stop it. That is nonsense. The battle can be, and is being, won every day by dedicated conservationists. Extinction can be halted, and even reversed.

Our new programme Back from the Brink 2 proves it. A very special pan-European natural history event, produced by RTÉ Cork in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union, this one-hour programme will be broadcast on RTÉ One at 18:30 on Sunday 28thMarch 2021. It will celebrate the hard work, dedication and commitment of conservationists who are striving to save endangered European species from extinction.

The reaction to our first Back from the Brinkprogramme in December 2019 showed us that there is a real appetite for conservation success stories. I’m delighted that we are now bringing even more of these stories, and the conservation heroes that make them possible, to viewers all across Europe, at a time when I think we could all do with a bit of optimism and some good news.

The programme will once again feature uplifting and inspirational conservation stories spanning the breadth of our continent. Here in Ireland, our focus is on the beautiful Roseate Tern, one of Europe’s rarest seabirds. The largest European breeding colony is situated on tiny Rockabill Island, off the coast of north Co. Dublin, where a team of wardens from BirdWatch Ireland, led by Dr. Stephen Newton, conserve and monitor the vital population of these very vulnerable birds. Thanks to round-the-clock protection and the provision of special nesting boxes, the Rockabill tern project has gone from strength to strength and is helping to repopulate other parts of Europe with Roseate Terns.

In Northern Ireland we see how natural foes have become unwitting allies, as the dramatic recovery of the predatory Pine Marten is finally changing the fortunes of the threatened Red Squirrel by pushing out the invasive non-native Grey Squirrel, which both outcompetes its native red cousins for food and infects them with disease. In doing so, the Pine Marten is also helping to restore woodland ecosystems which have been damaged by the presence of the Grey Squirrels.

Off the coast of Scotland, we follow efforts to tag and track the second-largest fish in the world, the mighty Basking Shark, in the hopes of learning more about their movements and, in particular, their mysterious breeding behaviour. Knowledge is power, and the more that conservationists can learn about these little-known ocean giants, the better they will be able to understand their needs and to help them to survive.

All too often we assume that humans and threatened animals simply cannot coexist, and that increasing urbanisation sadly but unavoidably necessitates the loss of biodiversity. Italian conservationists in Rome would disagree, however, and we focus on the rich wildlife of the Eternal City and show how even the threatened Peregrine Falcon, the fastest animal on the planet, has recovered from near-disastrous population declines to thrive in this busy, bustling city.

A similar thing is happening in The Netherlands, where conservation measures to provide safe city-centre nesting sites for the Common Swift have at long last been helping these amazing migratory birds to live up to their name and once again become common. Masters of flight, they spend more time on the wing than any other creature, only landing each summer to lay their eggs and rear their chicks, then flying non-stop for nine months. They don’t just tolerate urban development, they can thrive in it.

Our cities, too, can and should be havens for bats, as the efforts to protect vulnerable populations of nocturnal Vesper Bats in the town of Bellinzona in Switzerlanddemonstrate. Long misunderstood and even feared, the local residents have now taken these bats to their hearts. We follow a team of researchers as they develop ways to reduce the impact of human-caused problems such as light pollution on these highly sensitive flying mammals, with remarkable success.

When we think of hamsters, we usually think of the popular furry pets that are so beloved the world over. We can lose sight of the fact that their wild populations are in trouble, however, with numbers of the native European Hamster in particular having suffered terrible declines due to habitat destruction and agricultural intensification. However, conservationists in Bavaria, Germany have been trialling ways to restore the hamsters’ habitats and to ensure that these small, shy rodents can find the food and shelter that they need. They have even developed an innovative way to find these reclusive animals and their hidden breeding burrows, using specially trained hamster-seeking dogs.

It’s not hard to love a hamster, but what if the species that you are trying to save is less charismatic, and spends its existence almost completely out of the public gaze? Europe is home to no fewer than 546 species of freshwater fish, and almost 80% them occur nowhere else on Earth. Nearly half are under grave threat of extinction. A great many of our rivers have been polluted and have had their courses diverted, making it increasingly hard for the fish that live in them to survive. In the picturesque Vipava Valley in Slovenia, fisheries researchers have been restoring the habitat of the localised and endangered South European Nase, and the lessons learned in the quest to save this small fish have applications in other freshwater ecosystems right across Europe.

Climate change is one of the greatest problems facing our world, and it is already posing big challenges for human and animal populations alike. No creatures are set to suffer as much, however, as those that have adapted to live in our planet’s polar regions, where they depend on snow and ice, now rapidly vanishing, for their survival. It’s not all bad news though. In Norway a nationwide project to restore the long-vanished Arctic Fox to many of its former haunts has been bucking the trend, and has been helping to ensure that this small northern predator can have a secure future.

Climate change also threatens the rare Loggerhead Turtle, which has also had to contend with marine pollution and the encroachment of expanding human populations onto its nesting beaches. In Barcelona, Spain conservationists, local communities and municipal authorities have joined forces to help these enchanting oceanic reptiles, with teams of volunteers working to guard their eggs day and night. Even in one of the Mediterranean’s busiest cities, space is being found to accommodate nature, and local people are learning to cherish and celebrate their biodiversity.

All of us at RTÉ are delighted to be working together with our EBU partners across the continent to shine the spotlight on the efforts that can be, and are being, made to save threatened species. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s important to tell these stories and to let viewers know that even the most endangered animals can be brought back from the brink . . . if the will is there.

Derek Mooney

Second Chance Archive

Have another chance to hear some of our Mooney Goes Wild programmes uncovered from the RTÉ Radio 1 archive. Click the links below for more information.

The Dance of the Cuckoos - Mooney Goes Wild Special

The Blue Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Feathers - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Bergen Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Sparrows - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Wildlife Film Makers - Mooney Goes Wild Special

The Common Swift - Mooney Goes Wild Special

E-mail: mooney@rte.ie Facebook: facebook.com/rtenature Twitter: @NatureRTE

Ireland and Climate Change: Are we up for it? Professor John Sweeney - Maynooth University

When the countries of the world assembled for the now famous Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, they undertook to take the necessary steps to prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change. Defining what was dangerous proved a difficult task, however, and largely as a result of the European Union’s prodding, a value of 2oC warming above pre-industrial times was generally adopted as the criterion. Gradually the rest of the world fell into line with this, except the Small Island Developing States of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. For them this was something that would have condemned their island homes to submergence beneath the rising sea. So when the Paris Agreement emerged in 2015, it had a nuanced objective: "to hold increases in global temperatures to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts to limit increase to 1.5 °C." To flesh out what the 1.5oC target would actually mean, the Conference asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a Special Report, which they did in October of last year.

The report confirmed that significantly greater climate problems would be experienced at a warming of 1.5oc compared to the present day, even though we have already warmed by 1oC over pre-industrial levels. These would include increases in extremes of heat and heavy rainfall events in several regions, accompanied by more frequent and more intense droughts. But most worrying was the realisation that the remaining carbon budget to avoid this warming would only last for a decade or two at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions. After this budget was exhausted the carbon would be in the atmosphere for a century or more. Globally, emissions needed to fall by 45% on 2010 levels by 2030. It was this realisation that galvanised many groups and energised many individuals around the world, culminating in the mass protests we see around us. This was true, even in an Ireland whose compliance with its international obligations are failing miserably and its laggard status approaching the level of a national shaming. As a developed country with historical responsibility, we should be bearing more of the burden of tackling this problem than most other countries. Instead our per capita emissions are 50% higher than the EU average and place us as the second worst contributor to climate change on a per capita basis within the EU. The recently released 2018 figures confirm we are now 5M tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the limit we agreed solemnly with our EU partners over a decade ago.

At the same time as we declared a climate emergency in Ireland this year we also declared a biodiversity emergency. This was in recognition that Ireland was also experiencing serious threats to its species and habitats, partly due to climate and also a number of other drivers, such as agricultural intensification. Another UN report in spring 2019 confirmed that human actions are now threatening more species with global extinction than ever before. The current rate of species extinction is 10-100 times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years. Around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades.

In Ireland, our peatland, coastal marsh and mountain habitats are particularly at risk. 29 different bird species and 120 species of flowering plants are in serious decline. Some bird species such as the Corn Bunting and Corncock have become extinct. Others such as the Curlew have been decimated and many species such as the pearl mussel, bumblebee, barn owl and marsh fritillary butterfly face serious threats. At the same time invasive species are moving into newly favourable ecological niches providing additional competition and stress to native species.

Ireland has warmed by 0.5oC over the past 30 years and is likely to warm by a similar amount over the next 2-3 decades. This will have impacts on our growing season, making crops like maize much more feasible to grow. However, projected changes in rainfall are likely to be the main climate change problem Ireland will face. Already we are seeing an increase in intense rainfall events. Increased winter flood problems will result and the government will need to find €1B of taxpayers’ money to protect against future events. Winter storms are also likely to become more problematical. Winter 2013/14 was the stormiest winter in Ireland for at least 143 years. Winter 2015/16 was the wettest winter on record over half of Ireland. Former hurricanes such as Ophelia and Lorenzo pose additional late autumn threats which are likely to increase as the Atlantic warms and summer droughts will bring their own difficulties for agriculture and municipal water supplies. All in all, it is changing weather extremes which will bring the message of climate change home to Irish people and instil in them the urgency of playing a constructive role in international negotiations.

Conscious that it their legacy that is under threat, young people have been in the vanguard of protest. The ‘Fridays for Future’ schools protest has taken up the baton of Greta Thunberg who has become the icon that communicates the reality of climate change more effectively than a hundred graphs and tables. Armed with the factual knowledge of the Green Schools, it is to these inspirational leaders that the rest of society must now turn. The time for tinkering around the edges with excuses about efficiency or identifying ‘low hanging fruit’ on the basis of economic cost benefit curves is now over. The problem is now an ethical one of intergenerational equity, one where scientists can no longer be labelled ‘alarmists’ but rather ‘realists’. In an emergency the unthinkable has to be considered and Ireland is now at a crossroads where the next decade will determine what legacy we leave to the next generation. It’s an awesome responsibility. Are we up for it or not?

Professor John Sweeney is Ireland’s foremost climatologists and was a lecturer at Maynooth University’s Geography Department for 40 years until his recent retirement. Over the past 30 years he has published approximately 60 scientific papers and edited and co-authored texts on various aspects of climatology and climate change in Ireland.


Statement from BirdWatch Ireland, Thurs Feb 28th 2019:

BirdWatch Ireland wishes to remind the public, local authorities and contractors that hedge-cutting is NOT permitted between 1st March and 31st August inclusive, except in the case of any of the derogations permitted under the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended. The Heritage Act 2018 gives the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the power to make certain changes to these dates, but it is important to note that, as yet, the Minister has not done so. As a result, the usual dates when hedge-cutting is prohibited currently remain unchanged.

It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here. To read the Heritage Bill 2016, as passed by Dáil Éireann on July 5th 2018, click here. To read the Heritage Act 2018, click here.

To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.

Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals. For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland. If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.


Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild. If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie