Have you checked out the Rathlin Island blog yet? Click the link to see a new blog from our team at the Seabird Centre on Rathlin Island.
So, not so long ago, I wrote a blog here about taking part in an abseil down the Europa hotel to raise funds for the RSPB. Well, I’m at it again; this time, taking part in a relay team for the Belfast Marathon for the same reason.
The thing is, this decision doesn’t seem as strange as the one I made to fling myself off a building. In fact, this decision seems sensible. You see, I’m like a lot of people who live and work in a city. I don’t get a chance to get out much. Despite the fact that I my office is based in the beautiful Belvoir Park Forest, I’ll very often take lunch at my desk, looking at nature through the window. In the evenings, the furthest I walk is to the shop and back, and the only thing you see on that journey is cars, lights and concrete. Not terribly exciting. Running in the marathon seems to be the perfect excuse to get outdoors and enjoy nature, which is infinitely nicer to look at than a row of street lights.
So now I’ll be practicing what I preach. Last weekend I went for a run around Ormeau Park, tomorrow I’ll be running around Belvoir at lunchtime (a much better use of my spare time than checking Twitter!), I also want to run around Botanic Gardens in Belfast, and through Colin Glen. It goes without saying that I’ll be enjoying the scenery and keeping an eye out for the early signs of spring (I’m hoping to see my first snowdrop any day now!).
We’re more disconnected from nature than ever before, and this is affecting our children, many of whom don’t run through puddles, kick up leaves or go bug-hunting as much as previous generations. Personally, I know my mother used to despair when I would come home from a day’s wandering as she knew she’d struggle to rescue my shoes from the dirt I’d dragged them through!
This is a problem because people won't protect what they don't know and love. The RSPB has been working with the University of Essex to develop a brand new approach to find out just how connected to nature children are. The results will help us create a baseline measure for the UK and allow us to develop ways to inspire and connect children with nature right through to adulthood.
Getting outdoors to get fit is my way of reconnecting with nature. And obviously it will help raise vital funds for the RSPB’s work to stop nature declining. My team is aiming to raise £500, which between five of us shouldn’t be too difficult, but will make a big difference to our work here in Northern Ireland. It will help bring back corncrakes, connect young people with nature and much more besides, so if you were thinking about getting a team together, or are looking for one to join, get in touch with us! By getting yourself fit and enjoying nature, you’ll also be helping to save it. What could be better than that?
If you’re interested in running in this year’s marathon for RSPB, please get in touch with Laura Thomson on 028 9049 1547 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and hopefully I’ll see you at the finish line!
(that's me in the wellies!)
Our policy advocacy officer, Colum Delaney, has written a guest post over on the "Safeguard our sealife" blog. In it, you'll find out about the progress (or lack) of the Marine Bill through the Northern Ireland Executive, and what you can do to hurry our politicians along.
Click the link and check it out!
Our guest blogger this week is one of our fantastic volunteers and leader of Antrim Local Group Brenda Campbell. She keeps us up to speed on the Stepping up for Corncrake Project with Part 2- Bramble clearing on Rathlin island!
Whether you like it or not, the only way to get to an island is by crossing water!
On Friday 1st February, St Brigid’s Day, as part of an RSPB work party, we boarded The Canna Ferry at Ballycastle to travel to Rathlin Island and were pleasantly surprised to feel the wintry sun on our backs as she made her way steadily to Rathlin. On our arrival a squall of rain sent the softies running for shelter while islanders got on with the business of unloading and loading the boat. Then it was sunny again and although we could to see showers on the mainland, we smiled to ourselves, knowing we were benefitting from Rathlin’s microclimate.
The plan was to help prepare habitat to encourage Corncrakes to return to Rathlin and breed. On previous work days we had helped clear corners and make corridors, planting nettle roots to ensure there would be sufficient cover for the Corncrakes to breed. Today’s task was about grazing management, clearing brambles so that secure fencing could be put in place. The ancient stone walls on Rathlin are no match for the big friendly cows that lean up against them or use them for a scratch.
We set to with a will and made great inroads, cutting and piling up the fierce brambles, no mean feat! Encouraged by stories from Liam and Sean, Warden and Assistant Warden, about finding artefacts in stone walls, old bottles and ancient axe heads (none found funnily enough) we were surprised to see how much had been achieved by the end of the day.
The stone wall was clearly visible and we delighted in giving space to primroses trying to find sunlight through the bramble forest. The dry interior of the wall was also surprising after what has been a very wet spell, and we found tracks of animals using the gaps in the wall base.
Then word came that the boat now leaving would be our last chance to get home, as the forecast was for strong winds. We scampered to the vehicles and arrived in good time to board the boat. The journey was bumpy and we did get a wave or two coming over us where we stood at the side looking out for Whales or Dolphins. We had enjoyed another great day out on this beautiful and friendly island.
And as for those Corncrakes, if they don’t find us after all this work there’s going to be trouble! Come on Corncrakes, come and get it!
Stingy, tall, vibrant green nettles are fairly underrated when it comes to public opinion. But when it comes to the amount of biodiversity they support and the wildlife that rely on them, they cannot be overlooked.
Nettles are butterfly food for at least two common species - Red Admiral and Painted Lady; moths, ladybirds, aphids and caterpillars love them too. This in turn provides a great buffet for small birds! But why has the RSPB recently dug up and transported 63 big bags full of nettle roots to Rathlin Island?
In late spring nettles are much taller than other native plants and this has proved to be perfect habitat for one elusive little bird, the Corncrake. This once common bird of our countryside is fondly remembered by many and their distinctive call is reminiscent of long summer evenings. Changing farming practices have proved too much for them and now the bird is faced with extinction here in the North.
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Recent research shows that corncrake fly over Rathlin Island on their way to the Western Isles of Scotland and, if the habitat appears attractive, calling males will take residence. Males require early ‘cover’ to call from to attract females and this vegetation must be over 20cm in height. Females will also use this ‘cover’ to conceal two broods over the summer months. The RSPB decided nettles were the answer, as they grow tall earlier than other plants and these ‘nettle corridors’ had already proved successful for corncrake on other RSPB reserves.
Rathlin is the last place in the north that the birds are known to have bred so it was an obvious choice to focus efforts here, unfortunately Rathlin did not have many nettles! Our Stepping Up for Corncrake volunteers have been gathering nettle rhizomes (root systems) on farms throughout Northern Ireland, working with farmers who are keen to help this bird make a comeback. Our hardy volunteers put their backs into digging and pulling the roots then washing and bagging them in preparation for relocation!
I recently volunteered for one of these gathering days and it was fantastic, our location was spectacular; Maurice McHenry welcomed us to his farm on the north coast just above the village of Ballintoy, an unbeatable view! You may think I am slightly biased (you may be right) but I roped in some of my friends and family and we all had a great time! After being given our equipment and instructions we got stuck in and competitions ensued for the longest rhizome and for the most amount of bags (we beat the record)!
It was brilliant to meet other volunteers and talk to them about their reasons for joining in on practical conservation work and we all left not only having burnt off a good few calories but with a sense of pride, knowing the hard work we had done would really be making a difference.
If you would like to get involved in this project or any other volunteering project then please get in touch with Hayley or Suzanne on 028 90491547.
Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.