The RSPB is passionate about getting more children connected to nature.
Evidence shows that the proportion of children playing out in natural spaces has dropped by as much as 75 per cent over the last 30 to 40 years.
This is despite the proven positive effects that contact with the natural world has on children’s physical and mental health, personal and social development, and even academic achievements.
If the decline in connection continues, the consequences for wildlife and people could be catastrophic - children who don’t value and respect nature when they’re young are less likely to see the importance of protecting the natural environment when they're older.
Worryingly, RSPB NI’s ability to connect more children with nature is under threat as vital funding from the Department of the Environment is withdrawn in June.
We’re facing a cut of £150,000 annually, which will have a detrimental impact on the amount and variety of education programmes we offer.
Currently, our small education team engages with tens of thousands of children every year in classrooms and communities. A big focus of our work is to encourage children to take action for the nature around them, from improvements to school grounds, to reporting sightings of threatened species and attracting wildlife to their gardens.
Just take the results of this year’s Big Garden and Big Schools’ Birdwatch – a record-breaking 14,000 children in Northern Ireland took time out of the classroom to record the birds that visited their playgrounds. (Blackbirds were spotted most often, closely followed by starlings and hooded crows!).
The whole environmental sector, and the great work that’s being done to engage young people with the environment, is under threat.
Help us stand up for nature by writing to or tweeting the Environment Minister or your local MLA and telling them why teaching the next generation to love nature is so important.
You may have caught the most recent episode of Countryfile, which featured Matt Baker spending some time with our residential volunteers at Portmore Lough (if you haven't, you can catch up here until mid-April).
The residential volunteering scheme is the result of refurbishment of the home of former warden Eddie Franklin, who sadly passed away in 2012. Eddie was the founding warden of Portmore Lough and it was his vision and hard work that has seen the site develop into the wildlife haven it is today.
Thanks to funding from the Youngman Trust and the Enkalon Foundation, we were able to refurbish the house to make it suitable for residential volunteers who would come and live there while volunteering full time at the reserve. We've talked before about important volunteers are to the RSPB, but volunteering is also a great way for young people to gain experience before taking their first steps into a career in conservation.
Our two newest residential volunteers, Julie and Heather, have been telling us all about their experience so far...
We both arrived around mid January to Portmore Lough. We plan to be here for at least six months in total!
We both came here for similar reasons, to gain more experience in order to pursue a career in conservation. Conservation is a highly competitive career field and full time volunteering is almost a necessity in order to get a look in.
We chose Portmore for its opportunities in public engagement, its diversity of habitats and large populations of bird species. It is a small site but rich in wildlife. We also have the opportunity to volunteer at other reserves, Portmore’s near central location being ideal to do so, gaining insight into the RSPB’s work across Northern Ireland.
The accommodation is particularly comfortable, especially in the winter months, being warm and cosy. It is only a ten minute walk away from the nature reserve entrance with views of the reserve visible from the kitchen window. It’s wonderful to have the nature reserve as your back garden.
On the reserve itself we have completed various tasks including the maintenance of the predator fence line (protecting wading birds, especially in the breeding months), taking part in wildlife surveys, assisting with the care of the ten konik ponies (with brand new foal!) and assisting with public events such as the World Wetlands day walk.
We also have assisted in tasks related to other reserves such as the Lower Lough Erne Islands in Fermanagh, where we strimmed grass for breeding wading birds such as the lapwing. We also have dug nettles to provide a habitat for the rare corncrake on Rathlin Island, and plan to go there on 20th March to help plant them.
In the coming spring months we will become more involved in ecological surveying and monitoring across various sites around Lough Neagh. One of these sites will be Lough Beg where we will be monitoring water levels, plants, insects and breeding birds.
Overall it’s been a wonderful experience so far and would highly recommend anyone interested in conservation to get involved.
When you think of nature, you might automatically think of the countryside – green fields, rivers and woodland teeming with life.
But our towns and cities are also home to huge numbers of birds and other wildlife, from summer visitors like swifts and house martins to more familiar species like hedgehogs and robins.
However as urban centres become more developed and the demand for housing and infrastructure increases, green spaces and places where wildlife can feed and breed are being lost at an alarming rate.
In a bid to protect urban species, RSPB NI has developed a Pledge for Nature which organisations from across Northern Ireland have signed to show their support.
Construction companies, education providers, community groups, housing providers and many other key stakeholders have to put their names to the pledge to protect and enhance urban biodiversity.
Like us, they believe that by working together, we can help nature thrive amongst us in our modern environment.
Over the coming months and years they will work with us to implement nature-friendly measures, from installing swift bricks in new housing to planting wildflowers in green spaces, and we hope that other organisations will be inspired to follow their lead.
If you live in a built-up area there are lots of easy things you can do to help nature thrive. Even small spaces like back yards and balconies can be a wildlife haven.
For example, a shallow dish full of water can make a great bird-bath and pots full of nectar-rich flowers like ox-eye daisies and lavender are a wonderful food source for bees and butterflies. Visit rspb.org.uk/homes for lots more wildlife-friendly gardening tips.
RSPB NI is also asking people to help urban nature by looking to Belfast’s skies this spring and summer and recording sightings of a very special bird.
Swifts migrate here from Africa to spend summer in a cooler climate and their scythe-shaped wings and high-pitched screech make them easily recognisable.
Sadly, swifts are declining at a rapid rate. Although the exact reasons are not yet clear, the loss of nesting sites through building improvement or demolition is thought to play a part.
It’s important we know where swifts are nesting so we can work to help protect them.
We need Belfast-based volunteers to take part in swift surveys from mid-May to mid-July. To find out more or become involved, please contact 028 9049 1547 or email email@example.com. Low-flying screaming swifts can indicate that a breeding colony is close by, so if you spot them anywhere in Northern Ireland please add your records to the online RSPB Swift Inventory at rspb.org.uk/applications/swiftsurvey