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Halting Environmental Loss Project

Calling curlew

The curlew is one of the species to be helped by HELP

The aim of HELP is to improve habitats for a range of priority species that have undergone severe declines in number and range. 

The species targeted for action are the chough, corncrake and breeding waders (curlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank). Habitat management work for these species will also benefit other wildlife including the great yellow bumblebee, Irish lady's tresses, marsh fritillary butterfly and Irish damselfly.
In Northern Ireland, work will centre on several important areas for breeding waders, namely the Lough Foyle Polders, Lough Beg, Lough Erne and Glenwherry in Co. Antrim. In these areas, Project Officers will provide training and advice for farmers on how to manage for waders. 

The spotlight in the Republic of Ireland will be on improving habitat for curlews, particularly in Donegal. Corncrakes and choughs will provide the focus for habitat improvement on Islay, Colonsay and Mull in Scotland.

As well as restoring wet grassland habitat, the project will utilise natural heritage assets, particularly the bird life, to educate locals and visitors alike and to attract tourists with the associated economic benefits to small rural islands.

Project objectives

  • Provide advice to over 160 farmers and crofters on managing land for breeding waders, corncrakes and choughs
  • Provide over 28 training events for farmers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and County Donegal
  • Restore over 127 hectares of coastal and floodplain grazing marsh in Northern Ireland, through rush and scrub control
  • Deliver over 150 guided walks and 30 talks about local biodiversity in Scotland
  • Carry out over 50 species and habitat surveys on over 8,000 hectares
  • Survey for curlews at key sites in Counties Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan
  • Research the invertebrate assemblages associated with chough feeding areas on Islay
  • Recommend mechanisms to ensure the continuation of quality habitat management for breeding waders and choughs.

Key dates so far

  • The projcet was officially launched in March 2011 at All Ireland Bird Conference
  • By July 2011 the first round of bird surveys werecomplete in all areas, and 13 pairs of breeding choughs supported on Islay
  • By March 2012 over 190 farmers/crofters are working in partnership with the project.
  • By the end of June 2012, over 200 walks and talks have been delivered on Islay, Mull and Colonsay
  • 25th September 2012 - Farmer Celebration Event in NI Assembly / Stormont

Work planned or underway

Over the autumn and winter of 2012-13, HELP Officers will be working closely with farmers and crofters to provide targeted habitat management advice. Work will continue on direct habitat management at key RSPB and BirdWatch Ireland sites and discussions will take place to further enhance the 2013 walks and talks programme on Islay, Colonsay and Mull.


1,000 ha of wet grassland have been surveyed in Lough Erne with breeding lapwings, snipe and curlews all found. Initial discussions have taken place with over 40 landowners. 1,580 ha has been surveyed to date in Glenwherry with 27 pairs of lapwings, 25 pairs of curlews and 19 chipping snipe.

The 1,073 ha surveyed in the Lough Foyle Polders have yielded 19 pairs of lapwings nesting on a variety of farmed habitats. The purple moor grass and rush pasture at Lough Beg yielded two pairs of lapwings, one pair of curlews and 16 pairs each of redshanks and snipe. Initial discussions have been held with over 100 landowners of wet grassland in Northern Ireland. 

Only four breeding pairs of curlews have been located in the whole of Donegal; a shocking figure that is being attributed to habitat fragmentation and the expansion of forestry.

The first corncrake survey of the season on Islay produced 56 calling males. Three farmers, with an area of 65 hectares, have agreed to manage their land for corncrakes. Over 40 pairs of choughs have nested on Islay, with the majority of these at the Rhinns. Monitoring of invertebrate populations in chough foraging areas is well underway. This will gather data on insect biodiversity at the crucial chick rearing time. 

44 and 17 calling male corncrakes have been heard on Colonsay and Oronsay respectively and there are 13 occupied chough sites over both islands. Numbers of corncrakes on Mull have been disappointing, at around five calling males. Surveys done for breeding curlew in Monaghan, Leitrim and Cavan in May 2012 highlighted 2 pairs.

RSPB Tourism Officers on Islay, Colonsay and Mull have guided over 180 successful trips, including to a white-tailed eagle viewing scheme, for over 3,495 people.

Over 50 Young Farmers attended a habitat management evert held at Loch Gruinart reserve. Other events have included 9 training events for farmers, crofters and Environment / Agricultural Advisors, a Corncrake & Chough Information Share Event held on Rathlin in May 2012 and over 200 walks and talks delivered on Islay, Mull and Colonsay. An all HELP Partner Event was held in Co. Donegal and Co. Londonderry.

Habitat management to date includes 11ha of scrub cleared on Fermanagh Islands, 40 ha rush cut at Lough Beg and 2500m of fencing on Islay. In February 2012 the Loch Gruinart Management Plan was completed in by March the project was ifluencing habitat management on over 6300ha land. Management agreements are now being implemented over almost 130ha in Donegal.

The second round of bird surveys is now complete, and an invertebrate survey has been carried out on Islay.


Who to contact

Caroline Marshall
Project Manager (Halting Environmental Loss Project)


RSPB Northern Ireland

RSPB Scotland

BirdWatch Ireland


£1.57 million total project costs, with £1.48 million in grant from the European Regional Development Fund's INTERREG IVA Programme, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the Republic of Ireland. The shortfall is made up by RSPB Scotland. 

This INTERREG IV Programme is delivered by the Special EU programmes Body

BirdWatch IrelandDepartment of the EnvironmentDepartment of Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentEuropean Regional Development Fund