Mooney Goes Wild Sunday 5 May 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

The Common Swift. Derek Mooney and the team learn about efforts being made across Europe to help save one of our favourite summer visitors

Mooney Goes Wild: The Common Swift

Join Derek as he learns about efforts being made across Europe, from Cork to Warsaw, and from Belfast to Baku in Azerbaijan, to learn more and thus help save this favourite summer visitor - The Common Swift (Apus apus).

Pictures of Swifts courtesy of BirdWatch Ireland; photos by (l) Paulina Skoczylas and (r) Artur Tabor

We start the programme by saying Slán To The Swift, as Derek meets with staff from BirdWatch Ireland (including Niall Hatch and Brian Caffrey) and Dublin City Council's Biodiversity team.  He then travels to Cork, to meet Professor John O'Halloran from UCC, to learn about their swift monitoring project...

From left: Swift Nestbox Monitor; Swift Nestboxes; John O'Halloran

To find out more about the Swift Nestbox Monitoring in UCC, visit http://blogs.ucc.ie/wordpress/bees/2014/04/25/ucc-swiftboxes/.

From there, Derek and Niall travel to Baku, in Azerbaijan, to find out from Samir Nuriyev, Director of the State Historical Architectural Reserve, Icherisheher, about work being done in that city to protect swifts...

Displaced Azeri Swifts Of Baku

Left: the famous Maiden Tower; Right: a new building with swift boxes

In the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, the famous Maiden's Tower has been home to swifts for many years. Holes in its crumbling walls provided nestplaces for about 250 Swifts for the past 30 or 40 years.  The tower is now being conserved to solve a hundred years of weather damage.  But the conservation, when completed, will leave only about 40 holes usable by the Swifts.  So special swift boxes are being installed on local buildings to rehouse the birds.

From there, Derek and Niall visit Poland, to talk to OTOP's Karolina Kalinowska, the International Manager of the Spring Alive project.  OTOP is the BirdLife International Partner in Poland, and Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds.  For more information about the project, visit www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/spring-alive-swallows-spring.

Swift Cities

Derek and Niall then visit Peter Cush, Senior Scientific Officer with the Biodiversity Unit in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, to learn about swift cities, and how they can help swift numbers...

Left: Niall Hatch and Peter Cush; Right: information on swift cities

To find out more about Belfast's Swift City, visit www.rspb.org.uk/news/348265-belfast-swift-city.

Swift 'Backpacks'

The Swift is an iconic and intriguing urban bird.  But it’s amber-listed in Ireland due to a decline in its population – thought to be due to the loss of available nest sites – and that’s compounded by the brevity of their breeding season which is shorter than any other breeding birds other than the cuckoo.  They arrive here in May and depart for Africa in early September.

Swifts are supreme aerialists and are Ireland’s fastest birds in level flight – clocking up about one hundred and eleven km/h.  Their wings are long and narrow and superbly adapted for fast flight and their forked tail is closed for maximum efficiency.  This enables them to fly to heights of more than ten thousand feet (3 km) and to travel about 19,000 km a year.  In 1964, an 18-year-old tagged bird was found dying in the UK.  It was estimated that in its lifetime, it had flown about six and a half MILLION km – the same as flying to the moon and back 8 times!

The Swift has tiny feet and virtually no legs, which makes taking flight from a standing start virtually impossible – so they never purposely land on the ground.  But they have little need to as they do pretty much everything in the air – from eating and sleeping to bathing and preening.  A young Swift will spend its first two or three years in constant flight only landing in high sheltered locations to nest.  They are the only known species who actually mate on the wing.

But it’s the extraordinary flying habits of Swifts which makes them so hard to study, because they’re so fast and totally aerial - and a team of scientists in Northern Ireland is currently finding a way round this problem.

They’re fitting Common Swifts with "backpacks" containing tiny GPS units, to find out where they forage.  This research is crucial to shedding light on key feeding areas, which have previously been impossible to monitor.  As Swifts can feed many miles away from where they breed, it’s essential that conservationists identify those sites so that they can each be protected – with the aim of safeguarding the species to secure its long term survival.

We conclude our focus on The Common Swift as Derek meets Dr. Kendrew Colhoun (Senior Conservation Scientist with the RSPB), Róisín Kearney (trainee bird ringer with the RSPB), and Philip Carson (Conservation Advisor with the RSPB) to learn more about this exciting project...

Clockwise from top left: (i) Róisín Kearney trainee bird ringer RSPB, Philip Carson, conservation advisor with RSPB and Kendrew Colhoun, senior conservation scientist RSPB; (ii) swift nest site, Northern Ireland; (iii) Preparing swift cage trap for catching swift as it leaves its nest site; (iv) Fixing make shift net in place against the wall covering the entrance to the nest.

Clockwise from top left: (i) Bird in the hand; (ii) Ready for tagging; (iii) GPS logger fitted 0.8g; (iv) GPS tag

 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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