Golden eagles reintroduction to Ireland 'could fail'
The reintroduction of golden eagles to Ireland is being reviewed amid warnings it could fail unless drastic action is taken in the next six years.
Lorcan O'Toole, who has overseen the project in Donegal from day one, described the situation as critical and cited underlying conditions of the hills in the county as a main reason for chicks failing to fledge.
"If we don't see changes in the uplands in five to six years some of the older breeding birds, which reach life expectancy at about 20 and obviously stop breeding, are going to no longer be there," he said.
"We'd be down to a single pair or maybe two pairs.
"The next six years are critical but I think after two to three years of targeted upland management you could see changes but ultimately it might take seven to 10 years to see the real results if a more sustainable management plan is put in place."
Mr O'Toole, general manager of the Golden Eagle Trust, said poisoning and human interference were no longer the primary issue with the Donegal project.
He called for a focus on the economy of upland farming, sustainability in land use and what measures are needed to benefit the rural society and wildlife.
In light of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's address to the Paris climate conference, he added: "If the Government is suggesting to world leaders that Irish bogs and mountain peatlands will absorb most of our increased methane from a growing dairy herd, it seems reasonable to suggest that sustainable farming and management practices in these bogland locations are developed in order to offset emissions and enhance tourism in struggling communities beset by emigration and unemployment."
This year in Donegal there were three breeding pairs of eagles but no chicks fledged.
While elusive and easily mistaken at a distance for buzzards, the trust said birds are now living and sighted in the Inishowen and Glencolmcille areas, the Bluestacks and Derryveigh mountains.
The majestic birds became extinct in Ireland in 1910.
They mainly eat hares, rabbits or small prey during nesting seasons but seabirds are also being taken by one pair on the west coast.
Eleven chicks have fledged in the wild to date but Mr O'Toole said the population needs to be significantly boosted if it is to survive similarly disastrous breeding years as this one.
It is understood Department of Agriculture officials are examining sustainability options for upland farms and commonages in Donegal and whether the experience of farming on the Burren could be used to improve conditions for wildlife.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht which works with the trust on the reintroduction will hold meetings shortly to review its performance to date.
"The review needs to be evidence-based as the factors involved are complex. The department and the trust will examine what genuinely effective options are available in the short and medium term," said a spokesman for the department.
Mr O'Toole said: " I think that all of us working in the uplands in Ireland have a lot to learn both from wildlife and agriculture points of view.
"I would say that farmers in Donegal are very supportive. There are still a small number of people who do not like the idea but on the whole they are supportive.
"I don't in any way blame the actions of farmers for the predicament of the eagles."