A farmer from Erris, Co Mayo, has become the first person to face prosecution for mowing his field and being in breach of regulations designed to protect the corncrake in the Mullet peninsula.

Peter Lavelle of Carne, Belmullet, appeared before Belmullet District Court after he was accused of ignoring a notice not to mow his field which was located close to where the protected corncrake was nesting in 2020.

The case is the first of its kind to be brought by the Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage under the European Union (Conservation of Wild Birds (Mullet Peninsula Special Protection Area)) Regulations 2013.

Counsel for the minister Helen Johnson told Judge Fiona Lydon that the corncrake is a protected species and the area where Mr Lavelle's field is located is within a designated special protection area (SPA).

The court heard that in April 2020, a corncrake was located in a field in Emly Beg North on the Mullet peninsula within the SPA.


In order to protect the corncrake, landowners in an area 250 metres from where the bird was located were notified that under EU regulations, the mowing of fields was prohibited until 1 September 2020.

Ms Johnson said that Mr Lavelle was made aware that the mowing of grass was prohibited, but he mowed his field in June of that year.

Mr Lavelle is contesting the charge on the grounds that only a small corner of his field which was mowed was located within a 250 metre buffer zone of where the corncrake was located.

Corncrake. \ National Parks and Wildlife Service

Ms Johnson told the court that the 250 metre buffer zone was for administration reasons only and Mr Lavelle was 'not off the hook'.

She said because the whole of his field is located in an SPA, he was still prohibited from mowing after receiving the notification.

'Bird of the Gaeltacht'

The corncrake is a migratory bird which arrives on Irish shores from Africa in spring and uses traditional hay meadows to nest before returning to Africa in September.

The corncrake has largely disappeared from Ireland, apart from peripheral areas of Galway, Mayo and Donegal and for this reason has become known as the 'bird of the Gaeltacht'.

Ms Johnson said that the Mullet peninsula is one of the "last remaining outposts" for the corncrake and the regulations were introduced in 2013 in order to protect breeding corncrakes.

Liam Loftus, a field officer with the Corncrake LIFE project, explained that the corncrake is rarely seen and is identified by the sound of a male bird calling at night.

He said when a corncrake is heard, field officers would identify the location and if the bird is still there after the fifth night, they would verify the area as a breeding site.

Mr Loftus explained that he went to the location on 22 April 2020 after receiving a report of a corncrake at Emly Beg North and listened for the corncrake from midnight to 3am.

He explained that he prioritised this location over the next few days and after night five was able to verify the location. He later triangulated the location of the corncrake and was satisfied to its degree of accuracy.


Mr Loftus then contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service's ranger for the Mullet peninsula and marked the location of the corncrake on a map with the 250m buffer zone around it.

Mr Loftus said that landowners were then alerted not to mow their grass and notified of a grant they could avail of for not mowing their grass before 1 September. He said Mr Lavelle was notified of this grant, but did not avail of it.

When questioned by solicitor for Mr Lavelle Peter Loftus, Liam Loftus confirmed that he did not hear the corncrake every night after first hearing it, but was satisfied he was able to verify its presence on the fifth night.

Not an exact science

Liam Loftus also confirmed he never visibly saw the corncrake, but was confident the location identified on the map was accurate.

This was disputed by Peter Loftus, who claimed it was not possible to triangulate the exact location using the sound of the bird while it was dark and this was not an exact science.

Peter Loftus argued that his client only encroached into the 250m buffer zone by around 10 metres and if the location of the corncrake was pinpointed 10 metres to the north, there would have been no restrictions on his client mowing his field.

Ms Johnson refuted this, saying there are no exceptions to allow Mr Lavelle to mow the field, as his field is within an SPA.

Under the regulations, she said, once he is notified of the presence of the corncrake, he can only mow the field before 1 September with the permission of the minister, which he did not receive.

Peter Loftus also claimed that there was a degree of double jeopardy about the prosecution, as his client has already had €1,600 in farming grants withheld from him as a result of him mowing the field.

During the cross examination of Liam Loftus, it emerged that he had taken notes on the nights between April 22 and 27, which Peter Loftus said had not been made available to him. He asked for these notes to be disclosed to him so he could examine them.

Ms Johnson apologised to Judge Lydon, saying she had not known about them but would have them produced.

Judge Lydon said that it was unsatisfactory and agreed to adjourn the case until 10 April to allow Peter Loftus to examine the notes.