8 October 2012
The corncrake was once an iconic bird of our countryside, its distinctive call brings back fond memories of long summer evenings for many. Sadly, over the last century their numbers have dwindled, sightings are an extreme rarity and their call has scare been heard in recent years. The last reported breeding pair in Northern Ireland was in 1997. However, the RSPB is working hard to bring back this species, helping restore it to being a familiar visitor to our rural areas.
The RSPB are currently focusing conservation efforts on Rathlin Island as it was once a ‘hot-spot’ for corncrakes and it lies in close proximity to areas in Scotland and southern Ireland where corncrakes have recently bred successfully. Every summer this charismatic bird makes a long distance trip from Africa, when they arrive they look for an appropriate habitat in which to breed. Corncrakes are shy, secretive birds and look for protective cover where they can call from and find food, they prefer tall vegetation; nettles, cow parsley, irises, and reeds provide the perfect hiding place. However, there is a shortage of suitable vegetation cover on Rathlin and therefore, a need to create the perfect habitat for these birds.
Hayley Sherwin RSPB commented, “Last winter a hardy group of volunteers dug, cleaned and bagged nettle roots (or rhizomes), these were then replanted around the edges of hayfields on Rathlin. In addition, brambles were cleared to create ‘corncrake corridors’ that provide essential connectivity between areas of suitable habitat.”
This year, we need volunteers to once again Step up for Corncrakes and continue this vital work. The rhizomes will be collected in various locations including RSPB’s Portmore Lough nature reserve and private farms where willing farmers have granted permission, these will then be re-planted on Rathlin Island in time to entice next summer’s Corncrake to settle and to, fingers crossed, breed!
Dobbies Garden Centre in Lisburn has been extremely supportive of the important work that RSPB carry out, having recently raised £1,021 through RSPB pin badge sales, and hosting RSPB wildlife afternoons for families at their store on Saintfield Road. Now, they have very kindly donated digging forks to equip volunteers for the work on this project. If you would like to volunteer for the Stepping up for Corncrake project or are interested in volunteering in another capacity please contact RSPB on 02890 491 547.