Guest blog by Kenny Bodles, RSPB NI Conservation Officer
With the recent summer sunshine, people have been flocking to the coast in their droves to enjoy the good weather and the wildlife that makes its home in our seas at this time of year.
If you’re lucky, you might see visiting tern species starting to breed in the safety of a coastal island or our largest sea duck, the eider, foraging in our coastal waters and sheltered bays. But sadly, far from the idyllic scene set by beautiful weather and stunning coastline, all is not well for many of our seabird species.
Common tern. Credit David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Many, like the enigmatic manx shearwater, are in decline and efforts must be taken immediately to try and reverse this trend. But conserving any species, let alone highly mobile seabird species, can be extremely difficult.
The establishment and enforcement of Marine Protected Areas is one way to do this. A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a way to set aside important areas as safe havens for threatened species. But they are often difficult to put in place and opportunities to make new designations are rare. However, in Northern Ireland, two major new MPAs called Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are currently being considered for designation in the near future.
SPAs are specifically designed to protect bird species and these two new proposals, if designated, will offer new and widespread protection for species such as sandwich and common tern, eider, manx shearwater, light-bellied brent geese and red throated diver.
Manx shearwater. Credit Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
The two proposed areas - one in Carlingford Lough and one on the east coast of Northern Ireland, stretching from Larne Lough to Ardglass - will set aside vital habitat for these species and put measures in place to ensure these threatened species can recover and thrive around our coasts.
RSPB Northern Ireland is committed to giving seabirds a home around our coasts. We see the huge value of these new proposed Marine Protected Areas and fully support their designation. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to offer our most threatened seabirds safe haven around our coasts to recover and thrive once again? We believe it is possible and could mark a turning point for many of our most amazing seabirds.
We hope to hear good news on these designations in autumn 2016, so keep on this blog and our social media channels for some big announcements coming soon!
Over the last few months we have been working closely with Belfast Print Workshop (BPW) to create a huge display of handcrafted paper wildflowers.
They represent species that would have been common in our countryside, such as knapweed, common poppy and yarrow, and demonstrate the beauty and fragility of nature and the need to protect it.
Next week 1,500 of these flowers will be ‘planted’ on the front lawn at Queen’s University Belfast to create a visually stunning display and celebrate 50 years of the RSPB in Northern Ireland.
The creation of this beautiful display has taken a lot of time and effort. The artists involved have had to use a range of innovative techniques, working tirelessly to create a paper meadow full of vibrant colour and movement. We hope that their work inspires you to help give nature a home too.
BPW artist Dónall Billings describes how Paper Meadows was created -
“The Paper Meadows installation is a unique project and a great opportunity for me and my fellow artists from Belfast Print Workshop - Eimear McCann and Anushiya Sundaralingam - to work with RSPB NI and Queens’ University Belfast to create a piece demonstrating the beauty of the natural world, the need to protect it and its role in inspiring art.
Six different coloured paper pulp mixtures and moulds were created to form the six species of flowers to be represented. The paper pulp was beaten in large containers to open the fibres and straw was added to strengthen the mixture as the eco-seeds and dyes were added.
Each paper wildflower was individually sculpted into shape, threaded and woven with wire to enable the stems to sway and move in the wind as they would do in a wildflower meadow.
The challenge was ensuring that the paper wildflowers could resist weathering for the week of the display and still retain their form when distributed to and planted in school gardens. They will subsequently biodegrade, allowing the seeds to grow into a real wildflower meadow.
A number of the dried paper wildflowers were selected to be printed with bees and butterflies using a relief printmaking technique. The surfaces of the relief blocks were individually hand carved and inked up in different colours to represent the buff-tailed bumblebee, the common blue butterfly and the peacock butterfly.
As part of the installation a number of handmade swift and swallow silhouettes have also been made to ‘fly’ over the top of the meadow. They were made out of handmade blue paper to represent the sky and coated in wax to represent clouds.
You will be able to see the Paper Meadows installation at the lawns of the Lanyon at Queen’s University Belfast from Monday 6 June to Sunday 12 June. We hope you enjoy our work and take as much inspiration from nature as we have.”
We’ve been working hard for years on Rathlin Island to create habitat that’s just right for shy, secretive corncrakes. And this spring, we have some good news! Warden Liam McFaul explains all...
‘It’s been two weeks since the call of a corncrake was first reported on the island and when I went down in the evening to check for myself I heard its unmistakable call.
‘Since then, the corncrake has been calling in short bursts at night time, so we’re hopeful that it is keeping itself occupied.
The magic ingredient? Nettles!
‘It’s only the second time in 10 years that a corncrake has started calling on Rathlin Island. We’ve been working for many years to create favourable habitat for corncrakes, cultivating areas to grow the early cover of tall vegetation that they seek following their migration from Africa.
‘Growth on the island can be a bit slower than on the mainland so the nettles which we plant in the winter into spring are ideal, as they’re fast-growing and attract caterpillars and other invertebrates.
‘We encourage the nettles to grow using farm manure and old rotten silage. In other areas of the island we grow plants that are left to seed over winter. What we grow this year will be cover for any corncrakes next year. Over winter the seeds are beneficial for the likes of goldfinches, linnets and twites.
‘The nettle-growing habitat creation first started in Scotland to increase numbers of corncrakes and the successful practice was then introduced here.
(here's a library clip of a corncrake giving its distinctive call)
Nearly gone from Northern Ireland
‘Sadly, within a generation, the corncrake has been virtually wiped out in Northern Ireland, largely due to changes in agricultural practices. The last reported breeding pair in Northern Ireland was in the late 1990s.
‘Islay is only 20 miles away and home to good numbers of corncrakes. They also settle 25 miles west of us on County Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula, which really isn’t a great distance for these birds, considering their African migration.
‘What’s tricky is that corncrakes are ‘site-faithful’, returning to where they have imprinted as home. For us to attract young males to establish new territory on Rathlin Island we have to make sure that the habitat that we create is super-duper, the best of the best. You know the saying, ‘if you build it, they will come.‘
‘If a pair of corncrakes is successful, we would know around the middle of June. A pair would usually go on to have a second brood of chicks in quick succession. It’s a waiting game but so far the signs are there.’