It’s more than seven years since I left home in Enniskillen to experience life in the bright lights of Belfast but the time I’ve spent away has allowed me to really appreciate what a stunning place Fermanagh is.
As a child I spent many happy days in the great outdoors - racing my brother to the top of Lough Navar Forest to look out over Lough Erne or collecting conkers in the beautiful grounds of Castle Coole.
When I joined the team at RSPB Northern Ireland earlier this year, Area Manager Brad Robson took me on a tour of Castle Caldwell Forest, another beauty spot from my childhood which lies around five miles from the home of the famous Belleek Pottery.
The forest is a rich landscape which is home to wonderful displays of fungi, the rare Irish Whitebeam tree and some elusive mammals like red squirrels and pine martens.
From the woodland trails you can look out over Lower Lough Erne to some of the 40 islands which make up much of the RSPB’s reserve and boast wonderful names like Hare Island, Rabbit South and Muckinish.
The islands are home to lots of birds and wildlife but the dedicated habitat management carried out by the small Fermanagh RSPB team has brought about particularly good results for breeding waders, including curlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank, with more than 230 pairs nesting there in 2013.
Castle Caldwell is a stunning place to visit in winter – provided you’re wrapped up warm! Wildfowl numbers are on the increase, including the stunning goldeneye, and you might even see or hear the occasional whooper swan which has flown around 800 miles from colder conditions in Iceland!
Last Saturday around 20 million people across the UK tuned in to reality television shows, with a significant proportion of viewers picking up the phone and voting to save their favourite contestant.
Now we’re not going to be in the charts any time soon and we certainly haven’t mastered the quickstep, but here at RSPB Northern Ireland we’re urging people to vote in our poll to help save nature.
The harsh reality is that many of our most loved species and habitats are facing serious declines and even extinction.
The recent State of Nature report revealed 60 per cent of the species assessed have declined in recent years, while one in 10 is in danger of disappearing completely.
Governments around the UK, including Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, are currently deciding how to spend their farming and land management budgets for the next seven years.
This is the biggest pot of money available (approximately £340m of public money per year) to turn around the declines in our wildlife. By investing in the countryside and boosting support for farmers who give nature a home, governments could help wildlife thrive again.
The jargon surrounding Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) can be confusing but what the RSPB is campaigning for is clear.
We want DARD to commit to devote the maximum amount of money allowed towards funding that helps wildlife in the farmed environment through agri-environment schemes.
For example, sowing areas of wild bird cover provides food for species like the iconic yellowhammer during the cold winter months, while scrub management and good grazing practices help improve habitats for species such as lapwing and Irish hare.
Our question is simple. Do you think government should invest in farming that creates a countryside richer in nature?
Please cast your vote at www.rspb.org.uk/votefornature and join us in urging Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to give wildlife-friendly farming a future by sending her a pre-prepared email.
As the leaves continue to change and the weather takes a turn for the worse, hedgehogs are getting ready to hibernate. But before they bed down for winter, the spiky mammals are busy gaining weight to sustain them during their six month snooze.
They live on a diet of beetles, earthworms and other invertebrates but will happily munch on our leftovers, eating anything from cake to cooked vegetables. You can also put out tinned cat or dog food but don’t believe the old wives’ tale – bread and milk is not good for hedgehogs.
As well as supplementary feeding, you can literally give hedgehogs a home in your green space by providing suitable habitat. They like thick dense undergrowth and a variety of lengths of grass which is a great excuse for a ‘wild’ area in your garden! They also shelter in places like log piles and compost heaps so, if you’re planning a Halloween bonfire, don’t build it too early and check for hedgehogs before starting the fire.
Alternatively you can easily build a ‘hedgehog hotel’. A simple wooden box design (approximately 2ft x 1.5ft x 1ft) with entrance holes and a watertight lid makes the perfect home for this special species. For inspiration, or to purchase a cosy ‘hogitat’, visit www.rspb.org.uk/shop.
When hedgehogs emerge in the spring they will be hungry and keen to explore. To make it easier for them to come and go, create ‘nature corridors’ by replacing manmade barriers with hedges and shrub borders or leave gaps underneath fences and gates. Finally, avoid using slug pellets in your garden as they can be harmful to hedgehogs and check for hazards - hedgehogs can easily fall down holes and into ponds!