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Panel: Richard Collins & Éanna Ní Lamhna
We start with another reminder that the RTÉ Eye on Nature at the National Botanic Gardens wildlife photography competition kicks off on Tuesday 1st February. A collaboration between Mooney Goes Wild on RTÉ Radio One and the Today show on RTÉ One television, in conjunction with the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and the Office of Public Works. This is a celebration of the very best that Irish nature and Ireland's photographers have to offer.
Be sure to tune into the Today show tomorrow afternoon, when Derek will be joining Sinead and Daithí for the official launch of this year’s competition.
Which came first: the red or the grey?
The Red Squirrel is one of Ireland’s most endearing native mammals, yet it has had a very rough time over the past century or so. The introduction in 1911 of invasive alien Grey Squirrels from North America rapidly took a heavy toll on their smaller native cousins. Red Squirrel numbers have rebounded slightly here in recent years, it’s true, but these arboreal rodents could still go extinct in Ireland within our lifetimes without effective conservation measures.
Until recently, it was believed by many conservationists that the widespread planting of non-native coniferous plantations would help to save our endangered Red Squirrel populations. After all, while Grey Squirrels can readily outcompete Red Squirrels for acorns, beech-mast and hazelnuts in broadleaf forests, the Reds are much better than the Greys at feeding on pine- and spruce-cone seeds.
However, one factor that was not considered was the effects of these different habitats on the main mammalian predator of squirrels in Ireland, namely the Pine Marten. Until recently, these arboreal members of the weasel family were on the brink of extinction in Ireland, but they have undergone a remarkable population growth and expansion. They are very effective at killing and displacing the non-native Grey Squirrels, but they also appear to have a disproportionate effect on Red Squirrel numbers in their coniferous plantation refuges.
On tonight’s programme, we are joined from New York by Dr. Joshua P. Twining of Queen’s University Belfast, who explains the reasons why the restoration of native woodland is key to the survival of Ireland’s Red Squirrels. Essentially, he argues that Red Squirrel conservation strategies would be better focused on planting native broadleaf woodlands, alongside continued restoration of Pine Marten populations.
For more information about the interactions between Red Squirrels, Grey Squirrels and Pine Martens in Ireland and the importance of native woodland, visit https://pinemarten.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Twining-et-al_2020.pdf
Keeping track of our winter visitors: the Irish Wetland Bird Survey
Thanks to its location at the eastern edge of Europe and the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland receives an enormous number of migratory waterbirds each winter. They flock to us from places as far-flung as Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Scandinavia and Siberia, all seeking to benefit from the relatively mild winter climate that our island enjoys. As a result, Ireland is of vital international importance for a great many different waterbird species.
Conservationists have been alarmed, therefore, to note that wintering waterbird numbers across Ireland have fallen by a staggering 40% since just the mid-1990s. We know this thanks to the efforts of hundreds of experienced birdwatchers who carry out counts for the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS), which is coordinated by BirdWatch Ireland and funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, with staff from both bodies also carrying out field survey work.
Niamh Fitzgerald is BirdWatch Ireland’s National I-WeBS Organiser. She joins us on tonight’s programme to explain more about this vitally important long-term monitoring scheme, which was established in the winter of 1994/95 and has been running ever since, and the importance of Ireland’s wetland habitats for birds. As Niamh tells us, the survey always needs more volunteers, so if you have good knowledge of waterbird species, access to a telescope and a couple of hours free each month from September to March, she would love to hear from you.
For more information about I-WeBS and to volunteer to take part, visit https://birdwatchireland.ie/our-work/surveys-research/research-surveys/irish-wetland-bird-survey/
The Irish Butterfly Book
It might surprise you to learn that Ireland is home to 35 regularly occurring butterfly species. Some are common, widespread and easily encountered, while others are rare, range-restricted and require special effort to find. A fantastic new book covers all of them in impressive detail, outlining how to identify them, where and when to find them, how they live their lives and the threats facing them. Appropriately titled The Irish Butterfly Book and featuring more than 400 stunning original colour photographs, it is the culmination of over 25 years of study by its author, Jesmond Harding.
Jesmond joins us on tonight’s programme to fill us in on Ireland’s butterflies and their fascinating habits, how climate change and habitat loss are affecting them and the work that has gone into his superb new book.
For more information about The Irish Butterfly Book, visit https://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/2021/12/06/the-irish-butterfly-book/
The book can be purchased by emailing the author, Jesmond Harding, at firstname.lastname@example.org