Mooney Goes Wild Monday 11 February 2019

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.

Mooney Goes Wild

Mooney Goes Wild

Derek Mooney and guests explore the natural world in all its forms.

Mooney Goes Wild - The Wexford Blue Whale

This is the story of Hope also known as the Wexford Blue Whale which became stranded on Swanton Sandbank at the mouth of Wexford Harbour in 1891. Measuring in at over 25.2 metres in length this stunning Blue Whale was caught by a low tide on a sandbar one March morning. It is thought that Hope was migrating up the west coast of Ireland. Tonight we discuss her story with key experts and descendants of those who found her in 1891.

The Blue Whale is a carnivore whose average life span in the wild is about 80 or 90 years. It can weigh up to two hundred thousand kilos and grow to a size of around 32 metres. A blue whale's tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant, its heart as much as a car. Blue whales live in all the world's oceans occasionally swimming in small groups but usually alone or in pairs. They often spend summers feeding in polar waters and undertake lengthy migrations towards the Equator as winter arrives.

We begin our story in Ireland, in Dublin’s Natural History Museum known colloquially as the "Dead Zoo". Among the two million specimens across the disciplines of zoology, biology and geology housed in the museum is a picture that was taken in Wexford back in 1891. Nigel Monaghan, keeper of Ireland's Natural History Museum educates us on this incredible story of Hope, Ireland's best known Blue Whale.

The picture of Hope displayed in Dublin's Natural History Museum

Nigel Monaghan, with the photograph of Hope the Blue Whale (housed at the Natural History Museum in Dublin)

A model of a Blue whale's heart, often described as the size of a car pictured above

Derek Mooney travelled to South Kensington in London to meet Richard Sabin, the Curator of Mammals at the British Natural History Museum to learn more about Hope, the Wexford WhaleIn the 1800s there were an estimated 250,000 blue whales across the world's oceans. Decades of commercial hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction, with only around 400 thought to be left in 1966.

Cromwell Road, the home of the Natural History Museum in London

Richard Sabin, pictured above is Curator of Mammals at the British Natural History Museum 

First displayed in the Mammal Hall in London in 1934, Hope was suspended above a life-size model of a blue whale although it was not in full view. The picture below presents the life sized whale being hoisted up by men on scaffolding at each point of her Skelton. The carcass of the whale was bought by the Natural History Museum for £250. In 2017, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Sir David Attenborough unveiled Hope in her new home in the Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum  in London where she hangs to date.

Hoisting Hope in the Mammal Hall in London in 1934

'Hope' the Wexford Whale, pictured above in the Hintze Hall in the Natural History Museum, London

At the centre of this story is an Irishman called Ned Wickham, a lifeboat pilot in Wexford. He led a team of men who rowed out to meet Hope, the Blue Whale who floundered in Irish waters in 1891. It was Ned who eventually put the Blue Whale out of her misery.

Ned Wickham, lifeboat pilot in Wexford in 1891

Reports suggest that a group of well-meaning men beat the whale with metal bars in a crude attempt to slay her, but it was Ned Wickham who eventually killed the animal when he plunged an improvised harpoon under one of the flippers, directly into the heart. Once she was dead, tourists gathered to view the body of this monster from the deep. Newspapers reported of the whale's arrival as a 'strange visitant from strange seas'.

A newspaper cutting from the Liverpool Mercury on 30 March 1891

Mooney Goes Wild reporter Terry Flanagan travelled to Athlone to meet Ned Wickham's granddaughters, Liz Sheils and Mary Costello, to find out more about this local hero.

Liz Sheil & Mary Costello, the granddaughters of Ned Wickham

Latest research:

Although Blue Whales are a rare sighting in Irish waters, they are not that uncommon.  Research from the largest offshore whale and dolphin survey ever conducted in Ireland and probably the largest ever in Europe were published late last year. The ObSERVE programme aimed to provide robust data with which to inform conservation management by assessing the importance of shelf edge habitats off western Ireland for whales and dolphins.  

Blue Whale; photo by Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This study has provided real insights into the relative abundance of fin, blue whale, sperm, long-finned pilot whales and Sowerby’s and Cuvier’s beaked whales as well as dolphins.  Humpback, Northern bottlenose, minke and sei whales were only occasionally detected. Seasonal and daily patterns were explored enabling a better understanding of the use of western Ireland by these species. Dr. Simon Berrow, Chief Science Officer and Acting CEO of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, spoke to Dr. Richard Collins about the research. For further information on this, visit www.iwdg.ie.

Dr. Simon Berrow, Chief Science Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

The blue whale was driven to the brink of extinction by commercial whaling in the 1800s and early 1900s.  It is one of the rarest whale species and it's estimated that there are only between 10,000 and 25,000 whales left on the planet.  

Richard Sears has been one of the most important Blue Whale researchers in the world for more than forty years. In 1979 he founded the Mingan Island Cetacean Studies in Quebec, where he also started the world’s first long-term observation of blue whales.

An advert encouraging commuters on the London Underground to say hellooo to Hope, the Wexford blue whale.

First Broadcast 11th of February 2019

Repeated RTÉ Radio 1, 31st of March 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 Mooney@rte.ie

Upcoming Events

Come learn from landscapes in the Burren this March

The 8th year of the Burrenbeo Trust Learning Landscape Symposium which will be held in and around Kinvara, Co. Galway from the 8th-10th March is shaping up to be the best year yet. With workshops, speakers and fieldtrips covering a broad range of backgrounds and interests, the event is sure to have something for anyone interested in place, education, conservation and community.

The Symposium is focused on place-based learning which is learning in, about and for place and is a key component of the work of event coordinators Burrenbeo Trust. Burrenbeo Trust work to connect everyone to their places and their role in caring for them. Over the weekend, more than 100 delegates and facilitators will gather to develop and share knowledge in this field of learning and growth. The diverse programme encompasses themes such as storytelling, team building, play, deep ecology, climate change and communities. Confirmed speakers so far include place academic Mary Corcoran, journalist Paddy Woodworth and Tomás Ó Ruairc of the Teaching Council and Neil Jackman and R?isín Burke of Abarta Heritage.

With over 20 talks and interactive workshop sessions, the Learning Landscape Symposium 2019 will have something for everyone involved or interested in environmental and community engagement, developing skills and providing tools for place-based learning in any locality. The event comprises a combination of keynote lectures and themed workshops in venues around the lovely village of Kinvara, with site-based workshops out in the stunning Burren landscape.

Further information can be found on www.burrenbeo.com 

 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.

Hedgerows

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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

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

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E-mail: mooney@rte.ie

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Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy

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