Big thank you from

Why people power can make everyone a winner

by Paul Cormacain 25/01/2002

TIME for the annual check-up on the corncrake, I thought.

So I thought about the 'good old days', when the Bog Meadows were made noisy by this ubiquitous bird. Parts of Fermanagh were noisy during the' breeding season, Rathlin Island was nearly over-run by corncrakes and many other parts of the country had a healthy population of them.

In the early summer evening the corncrake could be heard in most parts of the country, and no one would bother commenting on it.

Indeed, years ago when. we lived besides the Orangeman's field in Finaghy, corncrakes were the norm every night. One friend of ours, thinking they were too plentiful and too noisy, was actually heard to complain about them. Well, he has nothing to complain about now. I have not heard one there in years.

The RSPB have no records of breeding corncrakes in Northern Ireland for last year.

A few birds put in a temporary appearance in Rathlin, or rather they were heard on Rathlin. Clive Mellon, of the RSPB, is of the opinion that the Rathlin corncrakes were weekend visitors from Scotland.

Further west, the situation was more gratifying. Islands off the north coast of Donegal echoed to the sound of calling corncrakes and the patter of tiny corncrake feet.

Birdwatch Ireland, who co-operate very closely with the RSPB, was in part responsible for this satisfactory state of affairs. Others who helped were the good folk of Tory, and public opinion.

Who said' people power' is on the wane?

Further south, the Shannon and surrounding area was an excellent spot for corncrakes.

Then, in a place near the fair city of Athlone, Westmeath County Council granted permission for a development for houses and flats in an area described as 'one of the country's most important breeding grounds for the corncrakes'.

The Shannon flows through Athlone, and like everywhere else there has been much development in the area on both banks.

So there was a clash between development, housing needs, big business, corncrakes, and conservation in general. The Big Meadow is a most unlikely spot for a scrap, but a scrap was thrust on it.

The people were becoming increasingly aware of the state's duties and obligations under international law. The state is aware they can no longer ignore such things with impunity, and organisations like the RSPB and Wildlife Ireland continue to work for, and publicise, threats to the environment.

'People power'? Wildlife appealed the decision, and won. Here was good news, Here was a state within the European Union taking its responsibilities more seriously.

Shift to Brae Park in southeast London. Here a grand development of grand houses has been ongoing, and with only half an hour's commuting to London, business was good for the developers. And the home owners were happy. Not so the sand martins.

They have taken over an old quarry, come every summer for their holidays, glad to get away from the heat of Africa.

The future looked gloomy for the sand martins, and other forms of wildlife. Then an acute case of 'people power' was diagnosed, conservationists did a good job, 'ordinary' people and authorities alike were alerted, and change became inevitable.

The developers have lodged £800,000 with the local council. This not inconsiderable amount of money will be used to fund a 60 acre nature reserve on the greater part of the sand and gravel quarry. Won't the sand martins be delighted?

In this situation nature wins. The builders now have a high-profile good, friendly name.

The local houses will doubtless go up in value, which should please the residents, who will also have an asset on their doorsteps. The conservationists are happy. New house prices can now rise, which means that the company will probably make even more money that if they had built on the quarry.

The truth of the matter is that I can not see any losers!

Coming Events

Saturday 26 Sunday 27January - RSPB Garden Birdwatch, big survey, with sessions to help you take part, details from 9049 1547

Monday 28 January - Lisburn RSPB has an interesting topic at its meeting at 7.30 in Friend's School. Dave Allen will be knowledgeable about the Search for Roborovski's Rosefinch, more from 9260 1864

Thursday 31 January - Birdwatch Morning, at 11.30, at Castle Espie

Saturday 2 February - World Wetlands Day, at 2pm, at Oxford Island, enjoy some birdwatching with an expert in attendance.
Follow tradition from earliest days of Christianity in Ireland, make St Bridget Crosses, more from Castle Espie, 91874146
Lisburn RSPB outing to Carrickfergus and Larne Lough, phone 92621866

Saturday 16 February - Willow Weaving for your Garden, a workshop at Oxford Island, 1.30 details 3832 2205
Broadwater Bird Watch, at 11.30, further information from Lagan Valley 9049 1922

Monday 25 February - Lisburn RSPB will hear about Hippos, Hoopoes, Hornbills, from Jim Kitchen, at 7.30. details front 9260 1864

March 2002- RSPB Birdwatch Ireland, joint conference.

Ulster Star