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.
  • Bat Detectives!

    Bats get a bad press but, if you can accept they aren’t after your blood, you’ll be amazed by these magnificent mammals!

    Northern Ireland is home to eight species of bats and, as its name suggests, the common pipistrelle is found most often here. They can weigh as little as three grams – about the same as a 5p coin - but can munch their way though 3,000 insects in just one night!

    Common Pipistrelle. Credit Hugh Clark, Bat Conservation Trust.

    Sadly bat populations in the UK have declined dramatically in recent years due to loss of suitable feeding and roosting habitat.

    It’s illegal to kill bats, disturb them, or to damage their roost sites at any time of the year. They play important roles in the environment, from spreading plant seeds to controlling pests, so it’s vital they are protected.

    To find out more about these winged wonders, why not join us on Friday 16 September at Castle Caldwell in County Fermanagh? We’ll be there with the Northern Ireland Bat Group to explore the forest after dark.

    With the help of specialist technology, you’ll be able to hear the bats’ high frequency calls which are normally beyond the range of human hearing.

    Despite the wind and rain at last year’s event, we were lucky enough to hear the calls of a colony of pipistrelles roosting in a disused building!

    Find out more about this event and book your place. Places are filling up fast so swoop into action today!

    Or find out what you can do to help give bats a home in your patch, at

  • Filming in Fermanagh!

    Guest blog by Amy Burns (RSPB NI Fermanagh warden)

    To appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of county Fermanagh you need the summer sun to be shining high in the sky, to take a boat out on the waters of Lough Erne and set your watch to ‘Fermanagh time’!

    That’s the experience I was lucky enough to have last week when the BBC Countryfile crew visited us to film for their Summer Special show.

    At first I was a bit apprehensive when it was confirmed that the crew and presenter/farmer Adam Henson were coming to film what I would call a ‘normal working day’ on the reserve. We were due to met them first thing on Monday morning and as I left the house the sun was splitting the stones and there was hardly a smudge of white cloud in the sky. I felt so relieved that the weather was in our favour. All our equipment was in situ and ready to go. Our plans were coming together – a great start!

    The process of pre-recording a program for television definitely doesn’t flow as flawlessly as the final version makes it appear. Every conversation and movement is filmed from at least three different angles and several different times (depending on how much I messed up my lines!) I didn’t know what to do with my hands so they became very animated once the camera started rolling! Once my piece to camera was over I instantly relaxed and had the pleasure of watching my colleague Andrew re-enact moving cattle off the boat – cattle that had actually fled the scene five minutes previously!

    For lunch we lay up on the shore of Muckinish Island among the wildflowers and indulged in the sunshine while exchanging stories about Lough Erne with local man Fred Ternan, the last person to be born on an island on Lough Erne.

    The BBC crew were very easy to work with and it was a pleasure to be able to show the work we do alongside local farmers to give nature a home in Fermanagh. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the piece turns out this Sunday (31 July). Be sure to tune in to BBC1 from 7pm!


  • Bird ‘backpacks’ to uncover NI swift secrets

    They can eat, sleep and breed in mid-air, fly an average of 500 miles every day and weigh around the same as a Cadbury’s Creme Egg - swifts really are the superheroes of the bird world!

    Now a new project to find out where they forage in Northern Ireland has taken flight, thanks to a partnership between RSPB Northern Ireland, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Northern Ireland Swift Group. In a first for conservation science in Northern Ireland, dozens of swifts will be fitted with tiny GPS ‘backpacks’ in a bid to shed light on key feeding areas.

    Every year, swifts return to breeding sites within the UK and Ireland from their African wintering grounds. They are acrobatic masters, swooping high through the sky with their distinctive scythe-shaped wings.

    Swifts nest in the cracks and crevices of buildings, high up in the eaves. They pair for life, meeting up each spring at the same nest site which is ‘renovated’ and reused year after year. Unfortunately, as old buildings are fixed up or demolished, these sites are often lost and it can be difficult for a displaced pair to find a new site in time to lay eggs and raise a brood before heading back to warmer climes in August.

    The UK swift population has declined dramatically in recent years and, as a result, the species has been placed on the Amber List of birds of conservation concern.

    In recent years RSPB NI has been surveying swifts, primarily in south Belfast, to identify the areas they favour. Using this information, we’ve been working with communities and industry to try and protect nest sites. For example, new houses in The Village area have been constructed with ‘swift bricks’ built into the design – these special bricks contain nesting chambers that the birds can use.

    However, because swifts may feed many miles away from where they nest, it’s vital that these feeding sites are protected too.

    Today (30 June) experts will be safely capturing a number of swifts, some of which were previously tagged as part of a BTO and NI Swift Group migration study, and fitting them with miniature tracking devices, which weigh less than one gram.

    Being used for the first time in Ireland, and building on work carried out by the BTO over the previous two summers, these will record the locations of the swifts at approximately hourly intervals with an accuracy of just a few metres, revealing the feeding behaviour of nesting swifts in unprecedented detail.

    We hope to learn where nesting birds from specific colonies forage when they leave the nest, including differences in behaviour between swifts nesting in highly urban and more rurally-located colonies. After recovering tags the team at RSPB NI will be able to see, on screen, where the tagged birds spent each hour of the last few days – offering a unique insight into their behaviour. It is hoped that this joint initiative will run over several years and that the data collected will be invaluable in protecting one of the most special and threatened migratory species to its home here.