Over 250 farmers will deploy a number of measures this year aimed at increasing corncrake numbers in parts of the west and northwest of Ireland.

Farmers on the coasts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway have set aside 1,600ha for conservation measures under the results-based Corncrake LIFE project.

John Carey is the project manager for the programme, which is moving into its fourth year of operation this year.

“The time has flown. We have learned a huge amount about operating a conservation project and working with farmers to deliver something effective – but we are learning and adapting all the time. The birds are responding to the actions and the farmers are engaged and enthusiastic so all in all we would have to say that things are going well,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

In the last five years, corncrake numbers have increased by 35%.

“In the LIFE project areas, they have increased by 18% since the project started in earnest in 2021.There is no doubt that what we are doing is having a positive effect but we are building on some great work from the National Parks and Wildlife Service corncrake programme and other schemes that ran before us. It is great to see corncrake numbers on the rise though we have a long way to go yet,” he said.


Carey outlined that farmers in the scheme are asked to undertake three main actions:

  • The creation of a half-acre of early and late cover habitats. This can be nettles, common hogweed or cow parsley and, in some cases, farmers will plant a crop of kale and oats.
  • Wildlife-friendly mowing. This involves mowing a field from the centre out to let the birds escape and generally leaving a refuge strip at the side or head of the field for the birds to hide in for a few weeks.
  • Delayed grazing or mowing. The birds need as little disturbance as possible so farmers leave as many fields as they can until 15 August so the chicks don’t get killed by mowers. There is a good payment for doing this so many farmers don’t see it as a hit on their income.
  • Other actions include leaving strips or margins uncut so the birds have somewhere to hide, allowing the project team access to farms to control predators and attending knowledge transfer events.

    “Each action taken is cumulative in terms of managing the landscape for the birds, so every little helps when we look across the big picture in a strategic way,” Carey said.


    Carey is hopeful that the number of birds recorded in 2023 will be retained in 2024.

    “We had 218 birds last year so we just hope we have the same numbers again in 2024. Population stability is really important and we are hopeful that all the areas will retain corncrakes and some might improve.

    Corncrake-friendly mowing.

    “It would be lovely to see the numbers go up, but so many factors are out of our control as corncrakes are migratory birds which return home to us from Africa; anything might happen,” he said.