Giving Nature a Home in Northern Ireland

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Giving Nature a Home in Northern Ireland

The latest news on how we're Stepping up for Nature in Northern Ireland.
  • Reserve notes

    Every quarter, we'll use this blog to update you on all the goings-on across our reserves here in Northern Ireland from the previous three months. Here's what happened from October - December...

    Lough Neagh Area



    It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it

    In the next few weeks we plan to restore chick rearing habitat by clearing existing foot-drains. Tenders are out at the moment for contractors to clear 3.5km of these drains before mid February. This will leave muddy beaches which are perfect chick rearing habitat.


    Truxor clears the way for 2015 visitors

    Craigavon Borough Council’s Truxor machine (which is a self-propelled amphibious cutting and digging machine) has been on the Portmore Lough Reserve and has cut the reeds in front of the bird hide in preparation for the 2015 visitor season. Visitors to the hide will now have unobstructed views of the terns and black-headed gulls nesting on the artificial tern rafts and of panoramic views of the wildfowl along the perimeter of the reed bed, ensuring a great visitor experience.


    Ponies in fine fettle

    The ponies have remained in good health on the meadows, and their access to grazing is no longer restricted. Following a health check on 24 November by our usual vet (Joe O’Donnell Caddy Vets) we are pleased with the progress our ponies have made over the last six months. Their feet are in good condition and although they remain heavy, they are deemed by the vet to be in ‘healthy condition’. The poor quality and scarcity of vegetation at this time of year on the reserve will help to reduce the likelihood of poor health by reducing their weight even further.

    An advisory paper has been created and is attached to the RSPB Livestock Code of Practice to inform RSPB staff of factors affecting the health of konik ponies. This paper includes guidance on managing koniks and is aimed at staff who already have koniks or are considering the acquisition of konik ponies for reserves.


    Expanding horizons

    The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) visited Portmore as part of their annual conference. They were delighted to see how RSPB put theory into practice and get results. They left very motivated and full of praise for our works.

    The reserve was also visited by RSPB senior ecologist Malcolm Ausden as part of the RSPB trainee-ship course. His parting advice was to continue doing what we are doing and to do it over a larger area i.e. expand the Portmore Reserve!


    Survey seeks to HELP invertebrates

    An invertebrate survey funded by the HELP project and undertaken by Roy Anderson and Adam Mantell during autumn 2014 was completed in recent weeks. The information from this survey will help inform the future management of the fen and reedbed at Portmore Lough, and will provide us with a better understanding of our restorative work within an all nature perspective. Reserves ecology are currently assessing the surveys and more news on what was found will be in the next Reserve Notes.


    Residential Volunteering Scheme showing plenty of promise

    Simon Gray commenced his position as our first Residential Volunteer during mid- November. He has been an enthusiastic, committed and very effective member of the team during his time here. Simon enjoyed helping us put some of the finishing touches in place in the cottage. He has repaired and maintained the predator fence, cut tall vegetation outside the fence and erected 1km of barbed wire around the interior. Simon undertook a litter clear up, looked after the konik ponies and held the fort while Robin our Volunteer Coordinator was ill. Simon has been successful in securing paid employment undertaking nature reserves work in Co. Fermanagh and will be leaving Portmore on Friday 16 January.

    Heather Hunter and Julie McSwiggan will begin as new long term Residential Volunteers and will move into our cottage on Friday 16th January. Aisling Gribben commences as a full-time volunteer on Monday 12th January. She will travel from her home to the reserve daily. These ladies will bring a fine range of essential skills, experience and assistance to the Portmore Reserve.


    DARD impressed by rush control

    DARD will be returning later this month to the Portmore Lough Nature Reserve to determine the effectiveness of rush control on lapwing and breeding wader habitats. They visited during summer to see the habitat before cutting or weed wiping took place. They were very impressed by our ability to control the rush in such wet conditions – another tribute to the HELP machinery!


    Another safe pair of hands

    We are delighted to report that Laura Smith has been recruited and is now the new warden at Portmore. Laura has years of experience volunteering with RSPB at Portmore and also on many RSPB sites around the UK. She has worked with us on seasonal contracts as Research Assistant and also completed her Ecology trainee-ship. Laura looks forward to working with our residential and day volunteers undertaking habitat management works and surveying and monitoring on the reserve. She attended a Merlin training course in December providing us with the necessary skills to accurately monitor and record results on the RSPB database. She will also attend a ‘Working with Volunteers’ course in Swindon.


    Lough Beg


    UK Conservation Land Management Journal

    Our successful delivery of landscape-scale restoration of wet grassland at Lough Beg is featured in the current edition of the Conservation Land Management journal. This journal is distributed UK wide and contains articles that cover best

    practice or innovative management across the UK. This is the first time our work in NI has been recognized in such a journal and the team is very proud of putting RSPB NI on the map.


    Wet grassland just gets better and better

    Following the work which has taken place at Lough Beg since 2011 through the successful delivery of the Lough Beg Management plan, we are delighted to hear that NIEA are reporting that the site is recovering as a direct result of our intervention management. The results are very promising at this stage, indicating that the management approach has been successful and that the recovery of the Lough Beg ASSI is now well under way – something for all partners involved to be proud of. The Lough Neagh area team commends NIEA as effective partners in making this happen and we look forward to making similar progress for this and other locations in the time ahead. Local farmer Peter McMullen was part of our team at Lough Beg until the current phase of the project ended in December 2014. A massive thanks goes to him from the whole team at the RSPB for his dedication to the Lough Beg site. Peter’s local knowledge of this site made all the difference when it came to operating our machinery there, which was bought in as a specialist kit to deal with the marshy conditions on site.


    Image: Peter McMullen (with Gregory) taking procession of Soucy tractor in 2011

    Rebuilding the Countryside


    NI work highlighted at Reserves Spotlight talk at the Lodge

    Following on from the Northern Ireland reserves work featured at the RSPB Reserves Conference in Leeds, we presented the work of the team to staff at the Lodge in October. We were invited by Jo Gilbert so that once again we could explain how our reserves team contributes to the wider delivery of conservation on a landscape scale. The presentation given at the Lodge focused on our activities in the Lough Neagh area, and linked our work at Portmore Lough and Lough Beg with how we work with partners in the wider landscape.


    Partnership working bringing positive results for nature

    We continued to visit sites out and about in the Lough Neagh area with key landowners in the Bann Valley and in the south Lough Neagh area to provide these people with the support they need to realise bigger, better and more connected landscapes for nature around Lough Neagh, Lough Beg and Portmore Lough. Our engagement in this area has included local industry, community associations, government officials within DoE planning service and NIEA, and landowners.


    Partnership work highlighted at Awards Ceremony in Central London

    The work of the Northern Ireland team was highlighted at an awards Ceremony held at the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane Central London on 8 December. The ceremony was hosted by comedian Jo Brand on behalf of the Utility Week Achievements Award. The ceremony brought utility providers together from across the UK, where the RSPB / Northern Ireland Water partnership project to restore blanket bog on the Garron Plateau was nominated in the environment category.

    While the award went to United Utilities, the spotlight was placed once again on the achievements being made here in Northern Ireland to advance partnership working to restore some of our best sites. From humble beginnings of mapping vegetation and drains across the rich north Antrim landscape to negotiating an agreed way forward with our partners at NI Water, the effort put into this across our team was obviously worthy of being highlighted at such a prestigious venue. It provided something of a surreal moment when the details of our work were announced on stage by Jo Brand who had no idea where Garron Plateau was or what the project was about!


    Image: Garron Plateau looking north to Glenariffe


    Fermanagh Area


    Plans to improve prospects for waders

    A predator-proof fence will be erected on Humphrey’s Island, which was acquired last year, to improve the productivity of curlew, lapwing and snipe. As Humphries Island is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, a bridge will also be installed to provide site access from the mainland.


    Investigating Sustainable Management of Scrub

    Representatives from two timber-processing companies visited Owl Island with the Area Manager in December to investigate the possibility of felling and removing trees and scrub. If the timber and area is of the quality and quantity to make it worth their while, the scrub could be removed for free saving RSPB up to £15k per hectare. This will be the first stage in the restoration of breeding wader habitat on the island.


    Efficiency saving and reducing risk

    The stock pens with cattle crushes which were installed on Muckinish and Roscor Islands in November were put to use in December when the cattle were taken off. Previously we had to erect a temporary pen on every grazed island for this operation. We now have permanent cattle-handling facilities on all ten of our grazed islands; this saves time and greatly reduces risk of harm to staff and livestock.


    New group set to deliver

    The first meeting of the Fermanagh Delivery Group took place early in December. This follows on from the work of the Wader Recovery Group and follows the pattern of other Area Delivery Groups focused around Lough Neagh, Rathlin, Belfast and the Futurescapes areas. It allows staff from Reserves, Conservation, Communications and Fundraising teams to cooperate within a coordinated and cohesive forum in matters relating to work carried out in Fermanagh.


    Sea Loughs and Islands Area




    Miserable weather and short days doesn’t halt progress

    The bad weather and short day light hours on Rathlin caused many logistical problems. However great progress was made on many fronts, notably 200 metres of replacement fencing and improving access by creating three new gateways on Knockans reserve for stock management. We also installed 350 metres of drainage at Knockans to help drain fields and prevent flooding from the road. These fields are a favorite foraging area for the chough and the better drainage will help reduce poaching and reduce compliance issues. Corncrake preparations have continued; so far 60 bags of nettle rhizomes have been transported to Rathlin and are now on site and ready for planting. Fungi surveys were also undertaken at Roonivoolin and Knockans.


    Image: New drain and fence. Knockans, Rathlin


    Chuffed to have Chough for second winter

    Chough were reported at Fairhead in November, which indicates that they are locally resident and active for a second consecutive winter. Jeremy Cooke from Tidal Ventures Ltd recorded them over the sea between Rathlin and Fairhead while surveying for the proposed new tidal turbines.


    West Lighthouse development unshaken by storms

    The West Lighthouse development has continued apace, apart from one seven day period when work stopped due to a combination of bad storms (no boats) and Christmas. Now the new building is roofed and glazed, so the flooring and internal works can be undertaken whatever the weather. Meetings and discussions have taken place with stakeholders such as the local community, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL), regarding business planning, proposed interpretation, marketing and brand development and are continuing, despite weather upsets. CIL report that all building work remains on schedule and RSPB hope to reopen at the start of May.


    Image: West Lighthouse development, Rathlin


    A slight bump in the road

    Discussion took place between CIL, NIEA, DRD and RSPB regarding the need to resurface the approach road to the Seabird Centre. Initial feedback was very positive and NIEA were hopeful that they would be able to find funding to resurface the road. However this budget has been reduced and, whilst it should be enough to improve the approach road in the short term to allow for reopening, it will probably not be enough to fund a long term solution. All stakeholders, including the private bus companies who use the road, need to address this issue


    Staff training

    Despite the weather disruption, Health and Safety Risk Assessment training was completed in NIHQ and the regular Reserves Development and Support day was attended at Portmore, although unfortunately we were unable to get to the Team Day and Christmas celebrations. A second annual meeting took place with NIEA regarding the European Marine Site Management Plan in Ballycastle.



    Prepare to be WOWed

    Work at the Belfast Harbour Reserve have been progressing steadily. We received the keys of the building on the 19th January and the interpretation and swift tower are the last remaining elements to be completed. The Swift Tower is being manufactured in Poland and will be shipped to Belfast for installation in early March. Work on the new interpretation and signing will continue until the end of January. Solar panels have been installed on the visitor centre, to help reduce our carbon footprint and bills. The newly extended visitor centre and hides will offer better views than ever of the wildlife in the lagoon, and new additions such as the sand martin bank and swift tower will make the reserve more exciting than ever. An official launch is being scheduled for late February/early March – the actual date has still to be agreed.


    Losing Yoda!

    We would also like to acknowledge our regret that Janice Ritchie has left the RSPB after 10 years and we would like to put on record our appreciation of her fantastic support over the years. Everything that has been recorded in these notes and much more – Janice played a part in helping us achieve them. We wish her every success for the future.


    Gaining another great team member

    We extended Angela Mahon’s contract to take on Janice’s duties which she is doing fantastically well. We hope to recruit for a Reserves Coordinator early in the next financial year.


  • Belfast's Window on Wildlife is open for business!

    Belfast's Window on Wildlife (WOW) is now open to visitors after closing for an extensive refurbishment programme.

    We've been working hard to put the finishing touches on the reserve over the last few weeks, in time to welcome our first visitors on Wednesday, 18 February.

    So what's new?

    Well, we've made the visitor centre bigger, allowing for even better views of the harbour lagoon. The centre now also boasts a community room, which is available for hire for business meetings, parties, community groups - just about anything you can think of! (just get in touch with us to find out more)

    There are two brand new hides, which feature a special members-only area that's suitable for photographers (the little windows you can see in the picture below).

    We also have a crack-team of volunteers, ready to greet you at the door and make sure that you have a fantastic time.

    Whether you want to relax for an hour with a cup of coffee (RSPB's own fair trade, bird-friendly coffee no less!), get to grips with telling a teal from a wigeon, or wait for that perfect shot of an Arctic tern, Belfast WOW has you covered. We even have a library and some interactive displays to keep little ones happy and learning about nature.

    We hope you will come visit us soon!

    For information on opening times, how to get to the reserve and what you will see at this time of year, please visit our website.

    If you've already been down to see the reserve, please let us know what you think in the comments below. We're really keen to get feedback on all the work we've done.

    As a charity, we're reliant on donations from members and supporters to help run this fantastic site, which is why we will be introducing a small entry charge for non-RSPB members at Belfast WOW. Until 25 February, however, entry to the site will be free to everyone!

    Entrance charges from 25 February 2015: For non-members, the charge is £3 for adults and £1.50 for children and other concessions. You can easily become an RSPB member - just ask one of the team at Belfast WOW. You will then enjoy free access to the reserve, as well as all the other benefits that RSPB membership brings.  If you are already an RSPB member and have lost your card call 01767 693680 or email us to have a replacement card sent to you.

  • Exciting news at Belfast WOW...

    We’re thrilled to tell you that Belfast’s Window on Wildlife will be reopening on Wednesday, 18 February!

    We’re just putting the finishing touches on the building, including installing all our new interpretative signage, ready to open the doors next month. The team at Belfast WOW (Chris, Hilda and Lisa pictured below) can't wait to welcome you all there.

    As always, we're very grateful for your patience and support while we worked to improve the site.  We hope that you are as WOWed by the site as we are!

    Once the site is reopened, this blog will be updated by Lisa, the Visitor Experience Officer at Belfast WOW. She'll keep you updated with all the events, activities and of course, conservation work that happens at the reserve.

    As a charity, we're reliant on donations from members and supporters to help run this fantastic site, which is why we will be introducing a small entry charge for non-RSPB members at Belfast WOW. Until 25 February, however, entry to the site will be free to everyone! Please pop in to see the new visitor centre and hides during this time and enjoy fantastic up-close views of the birds and other wildlife that make their homes here.

    Entrance charges: For non-members, the charge is £3 for adults and £1.50 for children and other concessions. You can easily become an RSPB member - just ask one of the team at Belfast WOW. You will then enjoy free access to Belfast WOW, as well as all the other benefits that RSPB membership brings.  If you are already an RSPB member and have lost your card call 01767 693680 or email us to have a replacement card sent to you.

    We are grateful to the European Regional Development Fund administered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and the Alpha Programme administered by Groundwork NI for helping us to fund this project.