People react strongly to the news of a species becoming extinct, even if it only becomes extinct in one country and manages to survive in other parts of the world. The idea leaves us with a powerful sense of loss. This is why so much effort has been put into trying to preserve the last few remaining corncrakes that breed in this country and into saving the grey partridge.

The corncrake battle is not lost yet but the trend is not hopeful. The grey partridges are doing better and human intervention has meant that they have recovered from less than fifty birds in one location in Co Offaly to several hundred that are now being spread around the country.

A small number of animals, plants and birds have become extinct in Ireland in recent times. In 1951 a botanist found a plant called the Rannock rush growing in Pollagh Bog in Co. Offaly. Samples from the peat beneath showed that it had been growing there for several thousand years, though it has never been found anywhere else in Ireland. By 1960 it was extinct as a result of Bord na Mona activity.

An obscure little brown bird called the corn bunting, which I was very familiar with in my childhood, became extinct in Ireland in the last years of the twentieth century. The black rat has also probably become extinct in this country in the last ten years. There will certainly be more extinctions in the twenty-first century because we have many species of plant, bird and animal that are currently in a very perilous situation.

Human activity is responsible for the loss of many species but there is also a degree to which extinction is a natural process. Evolution is dynamic - it proceeds by losing old species and developing new ones.

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