Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

Is the haunting curlew’s cry set to fade forever in the Irish landscape?

Report on the curlew for Drivetime on RTE Radio 1


The native Irish curlew is down to about 120 breeding pairs. Picture [Birdwatch Ireland]

The haunting cry of the curlew, the wading bird with the long-curved bill which has been written about in song and verse and was once common across the Irish countryside.

Sadly, there are just 120 breeding pairs of curlew left in Ireland, a bird that has been written about in song and verse and was once so common across the Irish countryside. Thousands of curlew flock to our shores in winter to escape harsh scandinavian winters, native Irish curlew, are now on the verge of extinction.

I went in search of the curlew recently, and began by meeting Alan Lauder, an independent wildlife conservation consultant, and Chair of the Curlew Task Force, set up by the government last November, in a desperate attempt to prevent the disappearance of our native Curlews.

I met Alan in Broad Lough, an estuary of the Varty river, near Wicklow town. It’s one of the many places around the Irish coastline where thousands of  foreign-born curlews come to feed and take advantage of the mid Irish climate when they are not breeding. Many people in the conservation community had long suspected that all was not right with the curlew, but until recently nothing was done, Alan told me.


In November of last year, a meeting took place in Mullingar where experts and interested bodies gathered to discuss the plight of the native Irish curlew. The meeting decided that urgent action was required to save the bird, Alan told me.

The following day, still having not seen or heard a curlew, I travelled north in hope, to the village of Carrickroe, Co Monaghan, to meet Anita Donaghy and Joe Shannon of Birdwatch Ireland. Anita who is a project field officer for Birdwatch, gave me the background to the Curlew’s gradual, sad decline.

Joe, who is the local field officer for Birdwatch, travels around the north Monaghan countryside listening for the alarm call of the adult curlew, which indicates that curlew chicks are in the area.

He reassured me that earlier this morning he had found a breeding pair, with chick or chicks, in a newly cut field, in Drumlin country, a couple of miles north of Carrickroe village.

We had finally found a pair of native Irish breeding curlews, with one adult, probably the male, circling constantly, protecting at least one chick on the ground.

The curlew chicks are vulnerable to predators such as the fox, as they are exposed out in the centre of a cut field. The eggs are laid on the ground for one month, and then it takes a further five weeks for the chicks to gain the ability to fly, or fledge. In days gone by, sheer numbers of curlew meant the population remained stable, despite the vulnerability in early life.

Today, however, Birdwatch Ireland estimate that – just for the native curlew population to remain stable – requires each breeding pair to produce one chick, but surveys indicate curlews are only producing one chick for every five pairs.

The suspicion is that curlews are continuing to decline at perhaps a rate of 10 per cent per year, so unless something big is done, the cry of the native curlew will be lost to Ireland forever in a few short years.

The odds appear to be against the survival of the native curlew, but the National Parks and Wildlife Service is not giving up and has introduced  measures to reduce the threat from predators,

If the curlew is to survive it will also require farmers to co-operate with conservation efforts in the areas where the curlew remains, and for the public to row in behind with active support through donations or volunteering their help.

Pollinators in trouble; drunk and in love; 1mm thin TVs; why we sleep & dream


Half of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S.A. have disappeared in the last 10 years (Credit:

The honeybee is a vital pollinator of crops that enable humans to survive on this planet, yet, in the U.S.A. half of managed honeybee populations have disappeared in the last 10 years.

The U.S. administration was so alarmed about the threat to human existence this represents that President Obama, in 2014, launched a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and other Pollinators.

We discuss the theories put forward to explain why honeybees are in trouble, and the main planks of the U.S. strategy to maintain and build up honeybee numbers again.

Most of us love our TV, but large screen LED TVs can take up a lot of space, when fixtures, fittings, and the width of the set are all taken into account. Imagine a large screen TV, just 1 mm in width, that can be stuck to the wall for viewing, and peeled off and put away when not required.

South Korean electronics giant, LG, say such ultra-thin, wide screen TVs will be available for sale in Autumn this year. They are based on new technology which removes the need for bulky light boxes.

We’ve heard the expression being ‘drunk in love’. Well, scientists have found that the effect of alcohol is very similar on the mind and body, as the impact of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.

Scientists have long wondered why sleep, which made our ancestors, vulnerable to attack, evolved in human beings. They are finding that it has a lot to do with making sense of each day’s experience.

We also discuss how Japanese scientists are making remarkable progress with a ‘dream reading machine’ that can predict the content of people’s dreams – after the fact – with up to 80 per cent accuracy.

Listen below to discuss on all of the above with Declan Meehan on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan.

This was first broadcast on 21st May 2015

GM potato trial results in blight-free crops

Blight, a fungal infection, destroyed Irish potatoes during the Great Famine 1845-1852, and it remains a problem here today [Credit:]

Genetically modified, or GM, potatoes planted last August by Teagasc researchers have remained blight free, while standard potatoes beside them are diseased.

The apparent success of the trial opens the door for Irish farmers to use GM potatoes that are resistant to blight, which remains a major problem in Ireland.

Farmers must spray potatoes with pesticides to try and prevent blight. The EU has introduced a Directive that seeks the reduction of use of such chemicals.

Click here to read article in The Sunday Times 7-10-2012

Top Research Supporting Irish Agri-Sector

Irish dairy cattle graze out in the open all year round, unlike many other countries [Credit: Irish National Diary Council]

Ireland has great natural advantages when it comes to dairy farming, and producing livestock and crops.

The agri-sector continues to thrive despite the downturn, but that, of course, does not mean we can rest our on laurels.

For Ireland’s agri-economy to continue to thrive and expand it is vital that it is supported here at home by a top quality agricultural research infrastructure.

This is the context for the good news that Teagasc has opened a new Animal Bioscience Facility in Grange Co Meath.

The Facility is part of  Teagasc’s plan to establish ‘centres of excellence’ in the key sciences that underpin Irish agriculture.

We talk here about what kind of research will be conducted at the new facility.

LISTEN: Interview with Richard Dewhurst, Head of Animal and Bioscience Research Department,Teagasc

This interview was first broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 06.09.2012


Teagasc, Animal and Bioscience Research 

The Irish that Battled Blight, Plague, Flu and TB

“The dance of death” by Michael Wolmegut (1493) [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Irish history is littered with stories of death and destruction, from the days of Cromwell to the Civil War. But, diseases have also ravaged the land at various points in our history.

The ‘Black Death’ or the Plague, arrived here in 1347 (give or take a year or two according to experts), landing first in the port towns of Howth, Youghal and Waterford, before spreading at a frightening pace all over the country.

Then there was the Great Famine of the 1840s and 1850s triggered by a disease that rendered potatoes unfit for consumption.

In 1918, Influenza, or flu, wiped out a staggering 50 to 100 million people worldwide – more than the casualties of World War 1, which are estimated at 37 million. In Ireland at least 20,000 people died of from this flu that mainly killed healthy young people.

Then in the 1950s, TB arrived, again striking fear into the population before the authorities finally managed to get it under control.

In all four situations there were Irish people that contributed to the fight against disease. To find out more

LISTEN: Interview with Dr Aoife MacCormack & Daniel Kirby of Ireland’s Biomedical Diagnostic Institute

This was first broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 05-09-2012


Biomedical Diagnostic Institute

Videos: How Irish Science Battled Big Diseases

Robot Brains that Mimic Nature; Is Farming Destroying the Irish Countryside?

The Bumblebees are one of many insects that are crucial to the well-being of plants and the Irish countryside as they facilitate pollination. The bumblebee species pictured here is Bombus Muscorum (Credit, J. Breen & National Biodiversity Data Centre)

LISTEN:  Robotic Brains; Is Farming Destroying the Irish Countryside?

The human brain is a remarkable organ. It learns from and adapts to the environment, can repair itself and is capable of non-linear, sophisticated decision making. Researchers at NUIG want to mimic these abilities in a robotic brain.

Intensive farming has reduced the number of  species in the Irish countryside in recent decades, including, worryingly, many insect species that facilitate plant pollination. The situation is better on organic farms, but is going organic the answer for Ireland?


(1) Dr Fearghal Morgan, Director of the Bio-Inspired Electronics and Reconfigurable Computing (BIRC) research group, at NUI Galway.

(2) Dr Jane Stout, School of Natural Sciences, TCD.

Broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 21/07/2011

To contact the show email:

‘Rachel’s Water’ can prevent water shortages

Rachel Eustace, a second year student from Athy, has a novel idea for dealing with future water shortages in Ireland

First Published in March-April ed. of Science Spin

It seems odd that Ireland should ever experience water shortages, especially in recent years when rural Ireland has been repeatedly flooded by rainfall. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it always has been, but 14-year-old Rachel Eustace, a 2nd year at Ard Scoil na Tríonóid in Athy, has other ideas. She believes we should capture and use our rainfall.

In other countries people collect rainfall and use it for washing clothes, dishes and people. This rainwater is collected off roves and used for all purposes except drinking. In Ireland, we have good quality water available in rainfall, but we don’t bother catching it.

Rachael is clearly an articulate, very bright and practical girl. She wants to change the world, in her own way, but she has the talent to do it. It lifts the heart in Ireland’s darkest hour to see such enthusiasm, energy and talent in our young people. There is hope for us.

Rachel’s family gets most of its water from a well like their neighbours. During periods of heavy rain, and flooding, it is not possible to get water drawn from wells. This leads to the crazy situation where the fields all around can be flooded, while no-one has water.


Rachel thought to herself – and she is a practical girl remember – What can be done about it? She decided that she start to do something by taking samples of rainwater during rainy spells and send the samples off for testing to see whether rainwater was fit for drinking.

The people at Bord na Móna in Newbridge tested Rachel’s water samples, for water quality characteristics such as PH, conductivity, colour, turbidity and total hardness. The results came back. “They were all within standard – quite good results,” Rachel recalled.

These initial results were encouraging, but before Rachel could collect any more samples, the horrendous period of snow and ice before Christmas kicked in. There was no rainfall for sometime, as any precipitation simply fell as snow. Eventually, following the slow thaw, the first rains after the big freeze came and Rachel began collecting new samples.

These samples, which she numbered 3 and 4, were taken during the first rainfall events after the snow and ice. The samples were completely contaminated with bacteria, too many bacteria to even count. The reason for this was clear. During the freezing weather, the bacteria were not leaving the roofs of houses, they stayed there waiting to warm up.


Then when the weather finally did warm up, all the bacteria started to move, and they traveled down with the first rains of the warmer weather, down off the roof of Rachel’s home into her water collection container –a small, toy washing machine by the way. This mass migration of bacteria post-snow meant that there were massive concentrations of bacteria in these samples. This water was not drinkable, but the bacteria had at least left.

Two days later, the rain came again, and Rachel collected sample 5. This time the sample had no bacteria at all, she recalled. She was pleasantly surprised with the positive result. It showed that water quality collected from roofs can vary, but vary in a predictable fashion. The results show that it was important that  water is collected at least 15 minutes after rain starts to allow any bacteria present to make their way off the roof first. Also, to allow for a few days following a period of freezing conditions before samples are taken.

Based on all of this research Rachel came up with rainfall collection device. Her device had a screen to block out rocks and leaves. She used filter paper to stop muck and dirt getting into the water, and a micropore filter too, to stop smaller particles and bacteria. The water was then put in sterile bottle and exposed to ultra violet light. This light, many scientists now believe, can kill off 99 per cent of bacteria and viruses that may be present.

She had learned this from researching her topic, and applying it to improve her device.

Rachel was surprised by the positive reaction at the BT Show from members of the public to her water collection device. Some said it would be a great thing, once water charges came in, and water became expensive, while others asked her  when it will be available for sale. The interest got her thinking. She had not been planning to try and develop a saleable product, but now she feels she might like to do that. Her teacher, Ms Ní Fhaoláin agrees. No doubt we’ll be hearing more of ‘Rachel’s water’ in the future.

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