An Irish Baron has opened his vast estate to help the recovery of injured wildlife before they can be safely returned to the wild.
Randal Plunkett is the Baron of Dunsany and owns the huge Dunsany Castle and its surrounding grounds of 1,600 acres in Co Meath.
He heard about the plight of the nearby WRI Wildlife Hospital as they were overwhelmed with injured animals and had little space in which to rehabilitate them.
The animals need a space in which they can rebuild their strength after injury before they can be released fully back into the wild.
Mr Plunkett is a long-time animal lover and repurposed 750 acres of his land seven years ago to encourage surges in endangered wildlife populations.
The estate is now home again to growing numbers of birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels, kites and sparrowhawks, as well as pine martens, foxes, deer and otters.
Woodpeckers have also been recorded in Meath for the first time in 100 years.
Now Mr Plunkett is offering his land to help WRI Wildlife Hospital as they look to give both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ releases of injured animals back into the wild.
Mr Plunket said: “I’ve had a huge interest in the wildlife hospital since it opened, partly because they don’t get much State subsidies either and rely on donations.
“As fate would have it, they are only up the road from me and I know they are confined in terms of space so I offered them my lands to release the animals, some of whom will end up here.
“It will help biodiversity and climate change, which we should all be trying to aid.
“They are a really great bunch of people who care for the environment and our native wildlife and I’m delighted to be in a position to help.
“I think it’s extraordinary when all talk is on biodiversity and climate change that the only wildlife hospital in Ireland as well as rewilding projects such as Dunsany almost have to beg for State recognition.
“Some of the animals released by the hospital will end up here and others will move on, as is their nature, but it’s great to be able to give them a head start and it all adds to what I am trying to do here in Dunsany.
“Since rewilding started, animals and birds have reappeared and we have pine martens, kites, sparrow hawks, foxes and otters again. The first pair of woodpeckers recorded in over 100 years were spotted here last year and these have increased in number to 12 — with two breeding pairs now.”
Aoife McPartlin is the education and media manager at WRI Wildlife Hospital.
She explained the process: “When the animals have recovered, some of them need to go outside to a ‘soft release’ area.
“This is an enclosed space which mimics their natural habitat as much as possible and gives them a chance to become fit and strong before fully returning to the wild.
“We step down our involvement at this stage to ensure they are wary of humans in order to give them the best possible chance of survival.
“Unfortunately, we are confined with space at our location to do this so when Randal contacted us, we were over the moon.
“It’s just over two months now since we started working together and it’s going amazingly well. We released hedgehogs initially and some birds of prey and have moved now to fox cubs and three otters which are all in soft release sites within the estate.
“We turned a disused tennis court at Dunsany into an artificial holt for the otters and hope to turn old polytunnels in a walled garden into a bird of prey flight and aviaries.
“We feel really privileged to be able to do this. It is a fantastic opportunity and wonderful partnership that benefits both parties.”
There is still a real danger to the animals from poachers but both the Baron and the team at the Wildlife Hospital are prepared.
Mr Plunkett said: “I don’t want to but if I have to erect cameras, fences, gates and barbed wire to stop them killing these animals, I will.
“I think recent media coverage of what I’m trying to do here will unfortunately attract more poachers.”
Ms McPartlin added: “I can understand why Randal is anxious and our volunteers will also be watching out for any suspicious behaviour.
“We will be up there a lot checking on the animals and will drive around the periphery as a deterrent. We need to give nature a chance, not just for the animals but for all of us.”