Mooney Goes Wild, Monday August 13th 2018

If you notice something unusual in the natural world in your garden or on your travels or have a question about wildlife, ask the Mooney Goes Wild experts! We will do our best to get you the answer but remember a picture paints a thousand words so, if it is possible and safe to do so, take a picture and send it to

Mooney Goes Wild - Feathers - Mooney Goes Wild Special

There's a lot more to feathers than meets the eye.  They perform so many functions - not just for the birds that grow and wear them, but for mankind too.  That such a supremely versatile, functional and durable object could have come about by chance through natural selection might at first seem extraordinary but upon reflection, how else could such a perfect thing have arisen?  Nature is all about trial and error, millions upon millions of times in a row, equipping organisms with the tools needed to survive in an ever-changing world.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) displaying plumage while fishing in marshland. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)

And so it came to be that the dinosaurs live on.  They were the first creatures to have feathers, and despite what you may have learned in school they didn’t become extinct at all: they simply, very gradually turned into the animals we know today as birds – the only living creatures that possess feathers.

Image: Hans / Pixabay

In this new documentary, presenter Derek Mooney talks to ornithologists, authors, academics and those who work with feathers to uncover the significance of these plumes within the natural world, their pre-historic origin, how feathers led to the formation of the RSPB, and the huge financial value and varied uses of feathers today...

Hazel Johnston & Eric Dempsey (photo:

Eric Dempsey is an ornithologist, author, broadcaster and Mooney Goes Wild regular.  Eric and his wife Hazel Johnston run, which aims to share Ireland’s rich diversity of birds through guided tours, writing, public and corporate speaking and photography.  Derek meets them at their home in Wicklow for a very special slideshow: Feathers.

Derek next travels to University College Cork to talk to Dr. Maria McNamara, palaeobiologist in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences [BEES].  She tells Derek about the pre-historic origin of feathers, which were first found on fossilised dinosaur birds, the importance of fossils discovered at the Jehol Biota in China, and about the Berlin Specimen of Archaeopteryx.  For more information on Dr. McNamara and her work, visit

Left: author Tessa Boase; right: her book 'Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism – Women’s Fight for Change'

In a glass cabinet in the Museum of London is a purple feather, once worn on the hat of the suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst.  The elegant revolutionary was never without her plumage: it was a highly symbolic part of her brand.  But unease was growing that wild bird species were systematically slaughtered for the millinery trade, and it prompted one woman, Etta Lemon, to found the group that would become the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).  The disparate views between the two ladies is the focus of a recent book called Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism – Women’s Fight for Change.  Derek travels to Sussex to meet its author, Tessa Boase.  Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism – Women's Fight for Change is published by Aurum Press; the ISBN is 9781781316542 and the RRP is €22.  For further information, visit

Milliner Edel Ramberg with some of her creations and the feathers she works with

Decades later, feathers are still decorating the hats of stylish ladies, most notably at events such as the Galway Races or Royal Ascot.  Thankfully these feathers are sustainably and ethically sourced.  Derek visits leading milliner Edel Ramberg at her workshop in Galway to find out more...  To see some of Edel's beautiful creations, visit her website:

Left: Lisa Duffin; right: some down from an Eider duck, used to make the famed luxury Eiderdown bedding

From adorning heads to feathering beds, to be able to include such luxury plumes in your life was a real feather in your cap.  The most famous type of bedding to use feathers is the famed Eiderdown - pillows and duvets filled with the down produced by the Eider duck.  The lightness, warmth and rarity of this down means that it is one of the most valuable types of feather - an Eiderdown duvet can cost thousands of euro.  Derek visited Lisa Duffin, who is Joint Owner & Buying Director of Bottom Drawer, at Brown Thomas in Dublin...  For more, visit

Left: Dr. Richard Collins; right: Common eider (Somateria mollissima) male in spring plumage swimming in lake on tundra. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)

Dr. Richard Collins, ornithologist, zoologist & Mooney Goes Wild panellist, remembers accompanying Eider duck feather harvesters in Iceland; he chats to Derek about this, and about how Eider ducks are protected in Iceland...

Left: author Kirk Wallace Johnson; right: his book 'The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, And The Natural History Heist Of The Century'

Feathers are so complex in their form that it is extremely difficult to reproduce them artifically.  The high financial value of feathers is quite startling - a shipment of feathers onboard the ill-fated Titanic was insured for $2.3m at today’s value.  Not surprisingly, the huge monetary value associated with feathers has tempted more than one ne'er-do-well to try and procure them by unscrupulous means.  One of the most remarkable cases occurred in 2009, when a student flautist called Edwin Rist broke into the British Natural History Museum's Ornithology Building, and made off with almost 300 of the world's most exotic and rare dead bird species, stuffed into a suitcase.  A fascinating book recently published, called The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, And The Natural History Heist Of The Century, shines a light on this intriguing event.  Derek talks to its author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, about this bizarre and shocking crime... The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, And The Natural History Heist Of The Century is published by Hutchinson; the ISBN is 9781786330147 and the RRP is €20.  For more information, visit

First Broadcast 13th of August 2018

Repeated RTÉ Radio 1, 07th of April 2019

Mooney Goes Wild presented by Derek Mooney airs Monday nights 10PM RTÉ Radio 1. Please visit our programme archive at the top right of this webpage for previous programmes, documentaries and podcasts. You can contact us at

The Dawn Chorus

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.

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:        Facebook:          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

Music Played on the Show

Hooray For Hollywood

Hooray For Hollywood

Boston Pops Orchestra


Living Planet: Natural Cycles

Living Planet: Natural Cycles

Gavyn Wright, Phil Todd, Anthony Pleeth, Maurice Murphy & Nicholas Hooper


Nearer, My God To Thee

Nearer, My God To Thee

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Philadelphia Brass Ensemble & Percussion


Flute Concerto In D Major

Flute Concerto In D Major

Barthold Kuijken




Contact the Show


Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy

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