Nestwatch 2015

Back from the Brink is a one-hour programme that plans to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and commitment of conservationists who are striving to save endangered species from extinction. Here, Derek Mooney discusses this unique, pan-European natural history event.

I've been working in natural history broadcasting for over 30 years now. In that time, I’ve seen some truly wonderful sights, but I’ve also seen first-hand the problems that wildlife is facing, both in Ireland and around the globe. There has been a growing awareness amongst the general public, particularly in the last few years, of the threats to our environment and biodiversity.

In many ways, this has been long overdue, but I’m also aware that for a lot of people the current state of our planet can seem overwhelming, even depressing. We are increasingly bombarded by tales of doom and gloom. Issues like climate change and animal extinction are too often made to seem insurmountable, as though tragedy is a foregone conclusion, but that’s simply not true. It’s not too late to help nature. 

We need to find a way to bring some much-needed optimism back into the conservation. That’s definitely what attracted me most to Back from the Brink. Through my work over the years on Mooney Goes Wild, in particular, I have met thousands of dedicated scientists and conservationists out there, fighting hard to save endangered species and working miracles. By telling some of their stories, I thought we could inspire people and show that there is every reason for hope.

Nature is resilient, and if given a chance it can recover from all sorts of abuse. It was once thought that the Red Kite, a stunning bird of prey, was lost forever from Irish skies, shot and poisoned to extinction. To see dozens of them now flying over the Co. Wicklow countryside again, all thanks to the dedication of people who simply weren’t prepared to give up, was a humbling and inspirational experience.

The same goes for the enormous efforts that I witnessed to safeguard the growing populations of Wolves in Italy, Brown Bears in Spain and Eurasian Beavers in The Netherlands, to give a few key examples from the programme. Perhaps the most sobering part for me personally was seeing the dramatic effects that climate change has wrought on the Swiss Alps, where glaciers are rapidly melting and high mountain habitats are disappearing, along with the unique animals that live there. Even then, against all the odds, people are fighting back.

Back from the Brink is not just a story about animals. At its core, it’s really a story about people. We, humans, have caused our planet’s problems, but people are also the key to fixing them. Literally every conservationist I interviewed for the programme spoke with such passion about their work, coupled with an unshakeable belief that what they were doing was utterly worthwhile, and I think that shines through on the screen. It must do because even the production crews, and there were many across Europe, not least our own team here in Ireland, headed by Colm Crowley from RTÉ Cork and scientific advisor Niall Hatch, were totally dedicated to this project.

We want to empower as many of those viewers as possible, and to reinforce the truth that every single one of us can play a role in saving endangered species and the wider environment. It’s not just about doing your bit – it takes much more than a bit, it takes a lot! – but about understanding that we need to accept fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives. Having seen what can be achieved when the will is there, it will be well worth it, believe me.

Watch Back from the Brink at 6:30pm on Monday, 30th of December on RTÉ One.

15/05/15: Five weeks ago, a female mallard duck appeared in an enclosed, first-floor courtyard within one of the buildings in RTÉ. She made herself a nest within one of the planters and, content with the location, proceeded to lay a total of ten eggs. Staff working nearby, including Roisin and Breege, kept Mum fed and watered, and content.

Fast forward to last Wednesday, and those eggs began to hatch. Soon viewers to NestWatch were rewarded with the sight of little duckling heads nervously poking their heads out from underneath their mother. Our new arrivals had everyone talking: Mooney Goes Wild's NestWatch 2015: The Mallards was featured on The Ray D'Arcy Show, and on RTÉ News: www.rte.ie/news/2015/0513/700889-ducks-rte/.

But it is in the best interests of the ducklings to reach water within 24 hours of hatching, so very early on Thursday morning, Derek and his 'A' team of Eric Dempsey (ornithologist), Niall Hatch (Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland), Ricky Whelan (Dublin Bay Birds Project Assistant with BirdWatch Ireland) and Roisin O'Meachair and Breege Keegan (who work close to where the duck had nested) liberated Mum and her babies from within the courtyard and relocated them to nearby Herbert Park.

The A Team. Eric, Niall, Ricky, Breege and Roisin in Herbert Park

To hear the story of that relocation, tune into RTÉ Radio 1 this Sunday, May 17th at 10pm, for a Mooney Goes Wild Nestwatch special.

Click here to view our NestWatch 2015: The Mallards album on Flickr.

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Here, in the grounds of RTÉ, a female mallard duck has laid her eggs, and over the next few weeks, we'll be following the fortunes of our latest feathered family on NestWatch 2015: The Mallards... We expect the eggs to hatch next Thursday, May 14th. 

13/05/15 - An update from Roisin in International on our mallard duck mum and her eggs: "I went in last night just to see how she is. Got quite a good look at the eggs at one point. I think we could be looking at 8 or 9 eggs!"

14/05/15 - At approx. 7am this morning, our female mallard duck and her TEN young ducklings were liberated from the RTÉ courtyard where Mum had spent the last five weeks, and where her eggs hatched, into a local park. Further details and photos to follow!

About the Mallard Duck:

Anas platyrhynchos

Status: Resident, winter migrant from Iceland, Fennoscandia, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium & France. Additional captive-bred birds are released each year for hunting.

Conservation Concern: Green-listed in Ireland. The European population is regarded as Secure by BirdLife International.

Identification: Among the largest of our ducks (with the exception of Shelduck). Males with striking green head, yellow bill, white ring around the necj, grey underparts, blue speculum, black rump. Females brown in colour, but with blue speculum, dark stripe across the eye and whitish tail sides.

Similar Species: Males are unmistakable. Females and juveniles resemble other female and immature dabbling ducks.

Call: Male with nasal 'rheab', repeated when alert on water, and short whistle during courtship. Loud quacking of females.

Diet: Diet highly variable, and plant material, particularly seeds predominate. A range of animal material is also taken, including molluscs and crustaceans. Other food taken includes grain and stubble, and they have been shown to feed on a variety of food items presented by humans.

Breeding: Nest sites vary, mostly in ground where hidden in vegetation.

Wintering: Mallard are the most widespread species, although not quite as numerous as Wigeon or Teal. They occur in almost all available wetland habitats in Ireland.

Where To See: Common throughout Ireland. Loughs Neagh & Beg in County Antrim, Wexford Harbour & Slobs in County Wexford, Lough Foyle in County Derry, Strangford Lough in County Down and Lough Swilly in County Donegal are among the top wintering sites (1,000-5,500 birds).

Monitored by: Irish Wetland Bird Survey. 

Information courtesy of BirdWatch Ireland (www.birdwatchireland.ie)

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E-mail: mooney@rte.ie

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Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy

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