A flushing bar to move corncrakes out of the way of oncoming mowers on silage ground is being used in a corner of Mayo to see if the endangered bird can be further conserved.
Shane McIntyre is a sheep farmer and contractor from Belmullet, Co Mayo. He has made a flushing bar, which sits on the front loader of his tractor and has started small trials.
McIntyre told the Irish Farmers Journal this week that it all started when the Corncrake LIFE project wanted something made to move corncrakes out of grassland before mowing for silage or hay.
“They sent me photos of ones in America and other places, and videos. There was one on a front loader but I said it looked awful finicky and flimsy. I sat down and thought about it. Then I was afraid of travelling on the road with it. Would it come down on a car?
“So I was out spraying one evening and the boom got caught on a bank. It had folded back on me and sprung back out,” he said.
That was where the inspiration came from.
McIntyre ended up making a flushing bar, which sits on the front loader and can fold up like a boom – removing any road safety concerns.
“It’s just short of 9ft wide and when I’m cutting the headlands I can watch the mower without watching out the front and back. Around Belmullet here, some fields aren’t smooth. There’d be banks here and there, so you can adjust the height on it as well,” he said.
It is early days for the flushing bar yet, but McIntyre has mown two fields and is very happy with the results.
“It’s worked perfectly. It was going through the grass that they expected the corncrake to be in. The chains were rattling through it and the birds would have three or four metres to get away from the mower. I’m happy with it myself,” he said.
The fields were mown from the middle out, known as corncrake-friendly mowing.
“It’s built for any amount of species, even hares and other grass-lying birds. I’ve only done two fields here in trials. Around here, silage season kicks off around June or July.”
John Carey is project manager of the Corncrake LIFE project and said that a previous LIFE project in France had used the flushing bar with limited success and that they were actually around a long time ago, before farming priorities changed.
We’re optimistic it will have a positive impact on wildlife in meadows
“The idea was to bring it back here to Ireland. We wanted contractors to take ownership of it. So we got the fundamental ideas together and videos from the US. Shane really took it on from the word go and led it himself.
“We’re optimistic it will have a positive impact on wildlife in meadows. Research from the 1950s in the US, when they were used to cut pheasant mortality, found they reduced mortality by up to 60%.
“We’re fairly confident that it will have an impact beyond corncrakes. They should help skylarks, meadow pipits and hares.”
A flushing bar is also being worked on in Donegal, he added.
Under the €5.8m Corncrake LIFE project, which covers parts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway and aims to conserve the bird, farm advisers are currently scoring habitats for results-based payments. “Farmers are scoring quite well. It’s a positive sign,” he said.
He added that farmers in the scheme are going above and beyond what is required of them.
“There is so much early and late cover (ELC) being created. Farmers are making areas bigger and going beyond the basic requirements for the scheme,” he said, also stating that farmers in the scheme have real ambition.
Corncrake numbers for this year are also looking reasonably good. However, Carey said that the weather over the last two weeks has been shocking in the west. A final corncrake count is expected in a few weeks.