New figures reveal highs and lows for Northern Ireland’s nature

Tuesday 4 October 2016

New figures have revealed it's been a breeding season of highs and lows for the wildlife which makes its home in Northern Ireland.

It was a successful year for many of the birds that bred and raised chicks at sites RSPB NI owns or manages. For example 33 pairs of redshanks were recorded at Lough Beg near Toomebridge - the highest number in more than 25 years.

At Lough Foyle, around 55 pairs of breeding lapwings were recorded in the fields behind the sea wall between the Faughan and Roe rivers. This represents about six per cent of the entire population of breeding lapwing left in Northern Ireland, making it one of the most important regions left in NI.

At Portmore Lough near Aghalee 31 pairs of shoveler ducks, rare breeding birds in Ireland, were recorded. Meanwhile 179 pairs of black-headed gulls, up 84 pairs on last year, also made Portmore their home for the summer. Most nested on man-made rafts installed by the Portmore team and placed on the lough or in the wet grassland on the shore - except for one adventurous pair which made their nest in the warden's rowing boat!

At Glenwherry in the Antrim Hills, snipe had a bumper year with 164 pairs recorded - up 36 per cent on 2015. Other successes included 60 singing male sedge warblers, up from 37 last year.

On RSPB NI's Lower Lough Erne Islands reserve, which is made up of more than 40 islands, the unique colony of Sandwich terns increased to 226 pairs - up 88 pairs and at the highest level since records began in 1969.

Sadly, there wasn't such good news for some of NI's other threatened species, particularly curlews.

Inclement weather in March and April may have meant adult birds struggled to get into good condition to breed, while wind and rain later in the summer impacted on chick survival.

At Glenwherry, no more than five pairs of curlew successfully raised young while numbers were down by 6 pairs to 38 pairs in Fermanagh and no curlews at all were seen at Lough Beg this year.

The future of this iconic wading bird, so distinct because of its long down-curved bill, is in serious doubt.

RSPB NI is working closely with farmers and landowners across Northern Ireland to try and improve conditions for this species, which is one of the species at greatest risk of extinction.

At Portmore another red-listed wader species, lapwing, had a tough year too. Thirty-five pairs lost their first brood of eggs to predators but, thankfully, 17 pairs had a second nesting attempt and fledged nine young between them.

Meanwhile at RSPB NI's Belfast Window on Wildlife (WOW) reserve, nature lovers were treated to the sight and sound of common and Arctic terns jostling for space on rafts on the lagoon. Almost 200 pairs of common and four pairs of Arctic tern were recorded, however this was significantly down on last year's numbers. Weather, predation and a lack of food at sea meant productivity was poor - an issue which was mirrored at other colonies along the east coast.

More unusual residents at Belfast WOW included two pairs of grasshopper warblers, as well as two pairs of Mediterranean gulls which both fledged chicks. Mediterranean gulls are usually found around the shores of Greece, Turkey and Ukraine and had never bred in Belfast before.

Rare species were also a feature on Rathlin Island this year and there was much excitement when a corncrake was heard calling back in May. The bird stayed for a total of 51 days and, while it's impossible to tell if he bred successfully, his presence shows that steps to bring this species back to Rathlin are working.

It was good news too for NI's only breeding pair of great skua, which successful raised two chicks at the island's Kebble National Nature Reserve. The species, which is amber-listed in the UK, can have a wingspan reaching an impressive 1.4 metres!

Of course, it's not just birds which make their homes on land the RSPB owns and helps manage. This year monitoring of rare Irish Lady's Tresses orchids revealed over a thousand flowering spikes around the shores of Lough Beg - thought to be the biggest single colony in the UK.

Meanwhile at Portmore Lough 22 species of moth were recorded for the first time at the reserve and 13 types of butterfly, including the small heath butterfly which is a Northern Ireland priority species.

Gregory Woulahan, RSPB Northern Ireland Head of Reserves, said: "Every year the dedicated team of reserve and conservation staff work incredibly hard to maintain and increase the populations of threatened species. This year has rewarded the teams with increased breeding success across all sites but disappointment with some species, especially curlews. However we are now starting the new habitat management season and we will work as hard as ever to keep our threatened species on an upward trend."

Joanne Sherwood, RSPB Northern Ireland Director, added: "While there are many successes to be celebrated, it's clear that nature is in serious trouble in Northern Ireland.

"The results of the recent 2016 State of Nature report revealed that, while there are signs of hope, a shocking 20% of species studied in NI are at risk of extinction."

She added: "It's vital that environmental organisations, government, land managers and the wider public continue to work together to give nature a home. I'm proud of the part RSPB NI is playing in helping threatened wildlife and I want to thank our staff, volunteers and partners for their efforts.

"I have confidence that with continued perseverance and passion, we can make a real difference for nature in Northern Ireland."

To read the full NI State of Nature report, head to

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Conservation Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: Science Topic: Water and wetlands