Good news for farmland wildlife
Farmland birds received a huge boost this year with the much-anticipated launch of the Environmental Farming Scheme. It marks a welcome lift after years of decline without any agri-environment scheme whatsoever.
We now have three Farm Focus Areas for breeding waders: Glenwherry, Lough Erne and Lough Beg, and across NI over 400 farmers are supported by RSPB NI in managing their land for farmland birds and other wildlife.
One particularly outstanding farmer in Northern Ireland was recognised during the year for his work. Ballynahinch man Philip Bell was awarded “the boot” at the Farming Life and Danske Bank Awards for being NI’s most wildlife-friendly farmer. His close co-operation with RSPB NI advisors has led him to recreate a wildflower meadow, plant a wood and nurture exceptional wild bird cover that sustains farmland birds in winter.
Years of work for curlews pays off
For the first time in 20 years, curlew chicks have fledged at the College of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (CAFRE) Hill Farm in County Antrim. Since 2009, RSPB NI has been working with partners – including CAFRE – on the Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Project to ensure the sustainable management of this extensive upland hill farm, which is used to demonstrate good agricultural practice to students and existing farmers.
After a failed attempt to breed at Greenmount Hill Farm in 2016, two pairs of curlews returned in 2017 and one of those pairs successfully fledged three young. The project has undertaken a host of measures to make the area attractive to curlews. These include rush cutting, removing trees that would otherwise provide lookout perches for potential predators, as well as predator control itself, which was carried out by the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust. Other waders have also benefited, with snipe numbers increasing from 17 to 23 pairs.
Alongside this, RSPB NI is part of the UK-wide Curlew Trial Management Project exploring habitat management and predator control. What’s unique about our part in this project is that it’s being run on land outside our control: the early results of increased numbers and productivity are a tribute to the efforts of local farmers and communities.
Island wildlife gets a boost
News from Rathlin Island just seems to get better and better. This year saw the highest-ever visitor numbers at the West Light Seabird Centre (just under 20,000), which we run in partnership with the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Rathlin's Seabird Centre is one of 12 Great Lighthouses of Ireland offering unforgettable experiences and creating a deep appreciation of the role of lighthouses and the maritime and seafaring story.
And best of all, this year we celebrated the acquisition of a significant addition to the Rathlin reserve. Funding from a range of sources – including generous contributions from RSPB supporters – enabled us to buy land we have been managing for over 20 years.
The “new” addition ranges from open water and heathland to hawthorn hedge and scrub, and is home to Irish hares, snipe and native bluebells. Crucially, it is a target area in our plans to double the land under management for corncrakes. Someone must have told the birds – this year two corncrakes were reported and one is likely to have bred.