Mooney Goes Wild Monday 22 June 2020

Hedgerow Cutting Restrictions - The National Parks and Wildlife Service

Restrictions on cutting hedgerows are set out in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Heritage Act 2018. These Acts stipulate that it is an offence to destroy vegetation on uncultivated land between the 1st of March and the 31st of August each year.  The Heritage Act 2018 includes provisions to allow for managed hedge cutting and burning at certain times within the existing closed period on a pilot two year basis.

For further information Click Here

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

Mooney Goes Wild

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

Second Chance Documentary: THE DIPPER

Listen back to the Second Chance Documentary - Click Here

Dipper (photo: Shay Connolly / BirdWatch Ireland)

Dipper (photo: Shay Connolly / BirdWatch Ireland)

Take a stroll along one of our rivers or streams, and there's a good chance that you may not be the only one walking.  Under the water, out of sight, one of Ireland's most interesting and unusual birds may be walking with you. The Dipper is a strange creature indeed.  It's the only European songbird which forages underwater.

Clockwise from top left: John O'Halloran, Pat Smiddy, Barry O'Mahony, Niall Hatch, Manel López Béjar, Dario Fernandez-Bellon

In his new documentary, The Dipper, Derek Mooney meets with Professor John O'Halloran, Pat Smiddy and Barry O'Mahony - the UCC team who have been studying dippers for over three decades, along with PhD student Dario Fernandez-Bellon - to learn about the latest research into the habits and characteristics of this most intriguing of birds.  He walks along the River Owennacurra in Midleton as Pat surveys the river, and discovers how Barry builds dipper nestboxes.  He chats to BirdWatch Ireland's Development Officer Niall Hatch about the many interesting names given to the Dipper.  And he travels to the Autonomous University of Barcelona, to find out from Professor Manel López Béjar how analysing a dipper's feathers can indicate the stress level of the bird and the environment.

The poem The Dipper that we hear at the start of the programme was written by the wonderful Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, and was read by Gorretti Slavin.  For more information about Kathleen Jamie's work, please do visit

For more information about UCC's Dipper Ecology Project, visit

Left and right: Barry O'Mahony in his man shed in the town land of Coolatanaballey, near Carrigrohane, Co. Cork; middle: chicken wire to help grip the nesting material inside the nest box

Ringing dippers to find out more information about them

L-r: Professor John O'Halloran (UCC); Dario Fernandez Bellon (PhD student, UCC); Manel López Béjar (Prof of Embriology at the Veterinary School, Autonomous University of Barcelona)

Watch Professor John O'Halloran talk about his work on Dippers:


The Dipper is a most unusual bird.  Although a passerine (a perching bird), you will always find it along a waterway.  It is the only passerine that actively enters the water, swims underwater, and walks along the bottom feeding underwater.  It can stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.  It has a number of adaptations that allow for this behaviour (for example, strong claws, waterproof feathers, an extra eyelid etc...).

Dippers are also a very good indicator as to water pollution.  They will only be found along clean waterways.  They are named after their 'bobbing' or ‘dipping’ movements.  Local names include Water ouzel, Wee water hen, and Water Colly.

Dippers are known in some areas as 'Water Blackbirds'.  They have, however, the same shape as Wrens.  Both birds have almost spherical bodies and little cocked-up tails.  Their short necks give them a double-chinned appearance.  Despite the resemblance, egg-white protein and DNA analysis show that Dippers are much more closely related to thrushes than they are to Wrens.  The blackbird is a member of the thrush family, so the name 'Water Blackbird' may be appropriate after all.

But why have Dippers the same shape as wrens?  The answer may lie in the size of their wings.  Wrens have short little wings which enable them to fly in thick cover.  Generating enough lift on small wings requires extra large breast muscles and the resulting fat breast makes for a spherical profile.  Like Wrens, Dippers also have short wings, but not for flying in confined spaces.  They use their wings as fins when swimming under water.  Puffins, which also use their wings when diving, have a similar shape.

The Dipper's plumage is dark brown, but at a distance it looks black.  A gleaming white bib extends down from the bird's chin.  For all the world, the Dipper looks like a fussy little waiter in a fancy restaurant.  Like the waiter, it bows and curtseys a great deal.  This habit of constant dipping gives the bird its modern name.  Dipping may be a form of camouflage; a bobbing bird is harder to see against a torrent of moving water.  The white eye-lids, which it shows when it blinks, may have a similar function.

Dippers are placed in their own unique family, the Cinclidae.  The family has only one European member but there are four dipper species elsewhere in the world.  Our Irish Dipper is special; it belongs to a race peculiar to this island.  Well almost, our Dipper is also found in the Outer Hebrides and in parts of mainland Scotland.

The bird is a specialist.  It feeds on creepy-crawlies, particularly caddis-flies, which live in the beds of fast-flowing streams.  It also takes tadpoles and small fish.  Oddly, for a bird which dives for a living, the Dipper has few special adaptations for an aquatic life.  Its feet are not webbed.  It's legs are not especially powerful, nor are they located back towards its tail as in most diving birds.  It has, however, developed a membrane which can be pulled over its nostrils when it is underwater.  Its plumage is denser than that of similar small birds and its oil gland, important for waterproofing, is especially large.

The Dipper's hunting strategy is unique.  It likes water with a gravel bottom and plenty of rocks and boulders.  It can dive in from a perch or from flight, but, in calm conditions, it walks directly into the stream.  Instead of swimming, it walks on the stream bed, turning over stones.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it 'flies' along the bottom.  Being a bird, its body is lighter than the surrounding water and would tend to bob to the surface, but the dipper uses the current to push it downwards.  It must always face into the flow.  In calm water, it keeps the wings closed, but in rougher water it 'flies' under water.  The dives are short, typically three or four seconds long, but durations of up to 23 seconds have been recorded.  Birds may dive ten times in a minute.  They like shallow water but can go down to one and a half metres.

Irish Dippers are sedentary, reluctant to leave their mountain streams.  They can hunt under ice and will only leave their territories if the river freezes over completely.  The mountain environment, in winter, may appear to be unduly harsh for a small bird but the water in streams, provided that it is not frozen, is warmer than the surrounding land.

Dippers tend to be solitary in winter but some remain paired.  In very hard weather, the territorial system breaks down; birds face more pressing problems than defending their patch.  Rival males have been recorded, amicably using the same hole in the ice.

Both partners build the nest, which is often in a hole or on a ledge under a bridge.  The female does all the incubating and provides most of the food for the young.  Some Dippers produce two broods in a season.  Unlike most small birds, the same nest is used for both broods and may be repaired each year.  Dippers take about 18 days to build their nest, much longer than most birds of their size.  This encourages infestation by parasites but reusing the old nest saves time and effort.

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



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Twitter: @NatureRTE

Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy


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