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.
  • Red kite shot in County Down

    If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see a red kite soaring high in the sky, you’ll know how magnificent and awe-inspiring these birds of prey are.

    Red kites were persecuted to extinction here more than 200 years ago but in 2008 we partnered with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland.

    There are currently around 14 breeding pairs in NI but it’s estimated the population will only reach a sustainable level once around 50 pairs are established.

    So you can imagine the heartbreak we felt when it was recently confirmed that a red kite found dead near Katesbridge, County Down in May had been shot.

    The female bird was part of the final release phase of the project and was also ‘adopted’ by Ballyclare High School and given the name Fawkes.

    The bird was found near a nest site usually occupied by a male and female known as Black K and Black M. Worryingly, they have not been seen in recent months.

    To lose any of our small red kite population is a real setback but to find out that someone deliberately killed this beautiful bird of prey is beyond belief.

    Like all wild birds, red kites are protected by the law and it is an offence to injure or kill one.

    Anyone with information about this incident is asked to report it to the police on 101.

    We would also encourage the public to keep an eye out for Black K and Black M. Look for the tags on the underside of the wing and report any sightings to

    Photo credit: Ben Hall (

  • Reserve notes: January - March 2015

    Every quarter, we publish retrospective details of what's been happening on our reserves. Here's what went on from January to March this year...

    Lough Neagh

    Working in partnership

    The Lough Neagh Area manager visited Ham Wall and the Somerset Levels with partners from the Lough Neagh Partnership to see examples of wetland creation and restoration on old peat works in the area.  The team also took part in the landscape-scale conservation conference held in Bristol, where practitioners came together to share ideas on taking landscape-scale forward.  This was facilitated by the RSPB to support our partners at the Lough Neagh Partnership as they prepare a Landscape Partnership Scheme for the Lough Neagh area. We continue to meet with and support partners in the Lough Neagh area to assist with the development of sustainable land management plans for the wider area.

    Land Management Services

    The Lough Neagh Area Delivery Group has led on the development of a centralized approach to managing the machinery operation in Northern Ireland for the future. Plans have been prepared with the support of Work West and Invest Northern Ireland to help us make best use of our existing machinery resource and our team of expert land managers in order to undertake the RSPB core activities. This will also allow us to use our extra capacity to support our partners to undertake specialist land management work on wetlands and other habitats into the future. We expect this operation to become fully functional later in 2015. 


    All in a days work for our busy Residential Volunteers

    Laura the Assistant Warden has worked effectively with staff at Belvoir and the Lodge to incorporate residential volunteering at Portmore and successfully make the transition to accommodate both local and residential volunteers.

    Aisling Gribben, Julie O'Sullivan and Heather Hunter commenced their roles as residential volunteers during early to mid-January. They have been enthusiastic, committed and very effective members of the team completing jobs such as maintaining our predator fence, cutting 14km of tall vegetation inside and outside the fence and erecting 1km of barbed wire around the interior. They have ‘lookered’ the konik ponies, set mink traps and removed the invasive pond algae ‘azola’ from the Navvies drain. Aisling, Julie and Heather helped with numerous other tasks not to mention making themselves available for the BBC Countryfile broadcast on March 15th

    Upon fulfilling the needs at Portmore our residential volunteers are now expanding their workload by assisting Seamus and Gareth by undertaking further works at Lough Beg!

    Keeping predators on the de-fence at Portmore

    Occasional ground frosts during February allowed contractors to come in and clear 3.75km of drains. We used our RSPB topper to undertake 2.5ha of rush topping in our management agreement area and also used our hedge-cutter to undertake vegetation clearance along 2.5km of drain edges.

    15km of cutting works were completed by staff and volunteers where the vegetation on both sides of the perimeter of the predator fence was cut to ensure that tall vegetation such as rush, reeds, bramble and fallen trees did not break nor draw power from the fence.

    Annual maintenance was undertaken on the tern rafts in late March and the first week of April when the electric supply was reinstated to keep out mink.

    New foal enjoys free reign

    The ponies have remained in good health on the meadows and on February 13th a new foal was born. Some restrictive fencing was put in place to prevent the foal from falling into a drain. All temporary fencing was removed during mid-March and the foal continues to enjoy free reign around the lapwing meadows. Our usual vet (Joe O Donnell Caddy Vets) was on site during February to castrate the male foal born last September. The poor quality and scarcity of vegetation during winter and early spring on the reserve has helped to prevent the ponies from suffering from poor health due to over-eating and subsequent weight related problems and as such the ponies have remained in good condition.

    Portmore welcomes RSPB president

    On Saturday 11th April, RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff and her family joined us at Portmore for our Spring Treasure Trail event.  They left very impressed at what was available for the children, enjoying the quality of the information and words of advice, and the variety of things to do within a small space. Miranda’s husband also managed to catch a glimpse of a marsh harrier on the fen! 

    Portmore’s 15 minutes of Fame

    The Countryfile team arrived at Portmore on February 27th to film a piece in partnership with Queens University Belfast focusing on the Irish Hare. Whilst they were on site they also filmed an article on Residential Volunteering at Portmore Lough. Aisling, Heather and Donnell were televised whilst Claire Dunphy, Laura Smith and Amy Colvin helped facilitate this promotion.

    DARD impressed by rush control

    DARD visited Portmore to determine the effectiveness of rush control and our sluices on lapwing and breeding wader habitats. They were delighted to see how RSPB put theory into practice and get results. They left very motivated and full of praise for our work. We also arranged to hire out our tractor to DARD in order to help them deliver important rush control and habitat management works on the Glenwherry Hill farm.

    Visitor numbers still on the up!

    We had 12,000 visitors between April 2014 and now!

    Volunteers keeping up the good work

    Volunteer attendance, motivation, commitment and interest remains very high.

    Robin was unable to attend the reserve during February and March following a routine operation. His health is steadily improving and he is now returning for short periods as he continues to recover.

    Drawing on success

    Brendan McLernon continues to work on his landscape architect drawing as his final piece for his degree. This drawing is designed to illustrate the natural features and the existing infrastructure therein at both RSPB Portmore Lough Nature Reserve and Montiagh’s Moss Nature Reserve. New layers are also being created and added to this drawing to capture our vision in an illustrated form for both reserves within this landscape. The purpose of the drawing is to help us share our vision for future acquisitions and infrastructure. This will help us continue to plan and manage the reserve in the most effective, complimentary and sympathetic way possible now and in the future.


    Laura has been on a chainsaw training course in February in an attempt to provide us with the necessary skills to manage tree cutting tasks. She also travelled to Swindon and attended a ‘Working with Volunteers’ course during January which she has put to great effect with the residential volunteers since her return!

    Lough Beg

    Conservation Advisor appointed

    Gareth Bareham has now joined the Northern Ireland team as a permanent member of staff.  This is great news for the RSPB in Northern Ireland, given the tremendous work that Gareth has undertaken in the Lough Beg area since writing the Biffa funded Management Plan in 2009, which detailed the restoration prescriptions which were funded by INTERREG during the Halting Environmental Loss Project (HELP).  Gareth will continue his work in the Lough Beg/Neagh (and also cover elements of work at Lough Foyle) and will work as part of a team that covers the wider Lough Neagh and Lough Erne area to give nature a home on our nature reserve areas and at a wider landscape-scale. 

    Treasures of Lough Beg

    Lough Beg is a wetland of international importance.  It is also a landscape that is cherished locally, by those who live and work in the area, and those who visit.  Thanks to the RSPBNI education team and local primary school pupils, we now have a much clearer understanding of what local people value about the place they live. 

    Rebuilding the Countryside

    A gem in the crown of Irish Wetlands

    We received confirmation from NIEA that successful restoration of wet grassland has been achieved at Lough Beg Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).  The wet grassland was assessed in 2008 by NIEA and found to be in unfavourable condition.  By 2010 we had consulted all key partners, particularly local farmers and government agencies, and had a management plan in place.  We then ensured we had an appropriately resourced delivery programme and set to work over the last 4 years helping restore the site.

    Lough Beg contains 500ha of contiguous lowland wet grassland, and is a true gem in the crown of Irish wetlands, boasting rare plants like pennyroyal and Irish lady’s tresses orchids, and breeding waders that include Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and Curlew.  If there is one aspect to all of this that we are most proud of it is the fact that this approach proves that we can restore our best sites and give nature a home.  There are many ASSI’s in Northern Ireland where the conditions are unfavourable, but there is hope. 

    Lough Beg is a shining example of partnership working, between us, a nature conservation charity, government agencies, with responsibilities for protecting and managing landscapes, and farmers who work the land, to come together and deliver success.  This site must now be managed sustainably into the future so that it continues to remain in a favourable condition.  Recent budget cuts by the Northern Ireland Executive have cost the RSPB £162,000 in our annual budget, and resources are now stretched to the limit.  Let’s hope that we can continue to maintain Lough Beg, re-build our countryside and give nature a home. 


    New sites and old getting into shape

    Humphrey’s Island was added to the reserves portfolio in 2014 and now has an 830m combination-style solar-powered predator-proof fence.  The installation was completed by local contractors in March protecting 12.7ha of wet grassland for the coming breeding season.

    Habitat management has been completed across twelve islands for breeding waders including strimming mosaics of short vegetation with longer patches to benefit both lapwing and redshank breeding.  In addition the removal of regenerating scrub and rush mowing will benefit all four species of ground nesting waders. Staff are looking forward to getting out on site to monitor the breeding birds to measure the success of our work.

    New stock fencing has been installed on two islands to facilitate management with the aid of a grant from DARDNI and new livestock handling pens have been built on two islands at the west of Lower Lough Erne. 

    Out-wintered stock make a big difference in creating ideal conditions for breeding ground-nesting birds. On Horse Island, five ponies greatly improved the sward structure.  They were very affable and made good companions during strimming in February.

    Belted Galloways and Highlands grazed two other islands, creating good conditions for Curlew ahead of the coming breeding season.

    A sad end to a magnificent bird

    A sub-adult male White-tailed Eagle called Ingar, from the Kerry reintroduction scheme, had been present in the county since early 2014 but was sadly found dead in December 2015.  The corpse was very old and there was no material with which to undertake an autopsy.  Although there is no conclusive evidence, it is suspected that he died as a result of poisoning, most likely aimed at other predators.  This was a particularly saddening event since he had held territory for a full season and seemed likely to make a nesting attempt once he found a mate.

    Great work by the Lough Erne Wildfowlers Council

    The Lough Erne Wildfowlers Council (LEWC) is an umbrella body representing the nine wildfowling clubs in the county and is responsible for the management of the sport on the lough.  For many years there has been co-operation between LEWC and RSPB initially via the Lough Erne Wildfowl Liaison Group.  In the past few months LEWC have used money raised by selling permits for wildfowling on the lough to manage habitats for breeding waders.  This is the first stage of a bigger project.  The site where the scrub clearance took place is adjacent to Cruninish Island  (one of RSPB’s Lower Lough Erne Islands) and no doubt this habitat creation will benefit waders using both sites.

    HELP continues to deliver

    Sarah McCaffrey has been making great progress with the farming community following the announcement that the Halting Environmental Loss Project would continue indefinitely in the form of permanent roles for the conservation advisors.  This is a great boost to our offsite work in Fermanagh and has been very well received locally.  Sarah is looking forward to fieldwork to monitor the breeding waders over nearly 1000ha of wet grassland over the coming months

    Sea Loughs and Islands


    Chough return to Rathlin

    Chough returned on 13th March. This was much later than last year, probably due to persistent rough weather. They went straight to their nesting site and have been commuting to and from it since, feeding on a variety of sites – RSPB Roonivoolin, RSPB Knockans, Brockley and near the East Light. The Seabirds made brief appearances on the cliffs from as early as mid January, returning over the period and staying in large numbers for up to a week. 

    West Light House opening draws closer

    Building and refurbishment work continues at The West Light Seabird Centre, with landscaping and interior painting and decoration now underway.  Site meetings and liaison with builders and other workers are on-going. Planned interpretation is being developed off-site and the opening of at least part of the facility is now scheduled to coincide with the Rathlin Maritime Festival at the end of May.  We may be restricted to opening as a seabird viewing site only initially, if the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CILs) lighthouse interior interpretation is not ready.  A date for the launch of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland Trail is proposed for around the same time. 

    New staff at Rathlin

    Staff have now been appointed, with Alison McFaul returning to take up an 18 month contract as Visitor Experience Manager and Noreen Osborne and Kirsty Benton supporting as Visitor Experience Officers for this summer. The residential volunteer scheme will be in operation again, supplying the seven volunteers needed on a daily basis to ensure visitors have an excellent experience.

    Rough roads

    The NIEA funding for the upgrade and repairs to the their road across the National Nature Reserve at Kebble and Kinrammer has been substantially curtailed and only four loads of very rough broken stone have been delivered to a site at Kebble Cottage. To date this unsuitable material has not yet been laid in any of the pot-holes and access to the centre remains problematic.

    No substitute for hard work

    Active management work has included seven further nettle digs. Through the nettle digs we obtained 300 bags of rhizomes which has covered 400 square meters, so that all in, the 2015 work plan has been completed. This was achieved with the invaluable help and support of the Portmore volunteers.

    500 meters of field margins have been rotovated and are ready for planting with wild bird cover  which will create additional early cover for corncrake and provide seed for wintering flocks of passerines.  Brambles were cleared from 1400 metres of boundaries in three days of bramble clearance and a beach clean filled six big black bags of litter in two hours on one volunteer work day. Let’s hope the corncrake flying overhead in May stop and stay!

    The hard working volunteers were rewarded with a special lunch at Rathlin’s new venue, The Water Shed Café.

    Belfast WOW

    Visitor numbers off to a fantastic start

    The Belfast WOW reserve opened its doors to the public on Feb 18 with the official launch taking place in April with RSPB president Miranda Krestovnikoff. The reserve has welcomed over 2000 visitors young and old in the six weeks it has been open. The figures are definitely affected by weather; with quieter days being when there is rain/cold/wind!

    Setting the standards – only the best is good enough!

    Three days after opening to the public Dot Blakely volunteered her time and expertise to deliver a ‘Bird Watching for Beginners’ course. Needless to say all attendees left enthused and enthralled by Dot’s knowledge and expertise.

    A room with a view

    There has been a lot of interest in hiring the brand new community room at Belfast WOW for external and internal meetings. We are keen to promote this and so far the community room bookings have brought 131 people through our doors in a variety of meetings and so far we have received really positive feedback.

    Summer is just around the corner

    The winter wildfowl have left the reserve and the summer visitors are now starting to arrive. We have sighted Willow warblers and Swallows; however the Common terns are yet to make an appearance and take up residence – they seem to be late arriving across the country.

    Staff and Volunteers WOW

    The volunteer team at WOW are settling in well and have been invaluable in the day to day running of the reserve and in ensuring that all of our visitors receive an excellent visitor experience.

    We are delighted that Hilda Doherty, our volunteer volunteer coordinator has started a short-term contract with us until the end of June. Hilda has been with us virtually full-time as a volunteer since the autumn and was a massive help in the months and weeks leading up to the opening of the new visitor centre.

    Lisa McAnnally our Visitor Experience Officer moved on from the RSPB on 17 April. During the five months that she has been here, she has gotten WOW off to a fantastic start. She has done a great job in pushing the hire of the community room; she has also been great in helping to put the processes in place for the new centre and creating a great section in the visitor centre for children. We would like to wish Lisa all the best of luck for the future. 

  • The secret life of Manx hen harriers


    Blog by James Walker, Manx BirdLife Media and Communications volunteer


    A hen harrier chick on the Isle of Man is to be fitted with a satellite tag to provide vital information about this threatened species.

    Manx Birdlife has co-ordinated the tagging as part of the LIFE+ Hen Harrier project and the £5,000 sponsorship needed came from a local charity, the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside (SPMC). Part of their generous donation was in memory of ex-president Sidney Cowin, who was a keen birdwatcher.

    The SPMC will have the chance to name the hen harrier and a team from the RSPB will be coming to the island later this month to fit the satellite tag, with support from a local bird ringer. The tag will provide Manx BirdLife with an insight into juvenile dispersal and the overnight sites used during the winter by these magnificent birds.

    Female hen harrier - photo courtesy of Brian Liggins

    The hen harrier population on the Isle of Man has dropped by 49 per cent - from 57 to 29 territorial pairs - between 2004 and 2010. This is by far the largest regional decline observed in the national hen harrier survey and is particularly worrying as the Isle of Man has historically been recognised as one of the species' strongholds in the British Isles. As no persecution has ever been recorded, further research is needed to investigate the causes of this dramatic decline.

    The Hen Harrier Life+ is an EU supported project aiming to improve the conservation status of Hen Harriers in the UK. This will be done over the next five years through conservation actions and awareness raising.

    If you would like to sponsor tagging for next year please contact Manx BirdLife Chief Operating Officer, Dora Querido, on