The number of corncrakes has increased 35% over the past five years to see 218 breeding territories recorded in 2023, new National Parks ad Wildlife Service (NPWS) data shows.

The figures point to these corncrake breeding territories increasing by 10% on 2022 alone to break the 200-mark for the first time in a decade.

There has been a corncrake sighting on the Aran Islands for the first time in over 25 years.

The Corncrake LIFE programme, co-ordinated by the NPWS, has been working with farmers since 2018 to improve the bird's numbers.

Farmers can receive payment for carrying out measures including patches of nettles or crops for the birds to hide in and mowing meadows outwards from the inside of a field, instead of more conventional inside-out mowing pattern.

Biodiversity action

“It’s fantastic to see that biodiversity action for the iconic corncrake is working,” said Minister of State for heritage Malcolm Noonan.

“The increase from 161 to 218 birds in just five years is remarkable and a testament to the hard work and commitment of so many, not least the farmers and communities at the heart of the effort.”

Minister Noonan noted that “while the future of the bird is not yet secure”, the new Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) co-operation projects “will help to ensure this legacy continues in the longer term”.

“As this project has shown, the NPWS is committed to working in co-operation with landowners across our protected area network to deliver for both people and nature.”

Farm measures

Ciaran Reaney, who co-ordinates the NPWS corncrake conservation programme, stated that, with more effective measures in place, the birds are moving outside of the counties where sightings are more regular.

“We are now seeing the birds expand their range into new areas in Sligo and Kerry, as well as areas outside the core LIFE project sites,” commented Reaney.

“This is great news and even better that the NPWS has the supports in place to grow the success of the LIFE project work and make potential actions for the birds available to more farmers.

“This summer, we had a corncrake on the Aran Islands in Co Galway for the first time in over 25 years and the farmers on the island couldn’t have been more helpful,” he said.

Year-round action

Manager of the Corncrake LIFE project Dr John Carey pointed to the project as allowing efforts to improve the bird's numbers being in place year-round, rather than just when they arrive in April.

“Factors such as predation risk management, knowledge exchange events with advisers and farmers, and building good relationships with local communities have been really important,” Carey went on.

“For many years, corncrake conservation was launched into action when birds arrived home in April, but now our team works year-round thanks to funding from the NPWS and the EU-LIFE programme.

"Communication on the ground is excellent, with our field staff, farmers and contractors operating in close co-operation at all times. It’s a well-oiled machine and can only get better with more resourcing.

"Conservation of farmland birds like corncrake needs to mirror farming practices - and farming is all year round.”