Lough Beg wet grassland project

Following the huge success of the INTERREG funded Halting Environmental Loss Project between 2010 and 2014, the RSPB is continuing to support farmers to maintain and expand the populations and range of breeding waders in their historical strongholds in Northern Ireland.

Lough Beg, view of Church Island, wet grassland

Overview

This suite of birds is intimately associated with traditional Northern Irish farmland landscapes but has been significantly declining throughout Northern Ireland for more than 30 years. RSPB is supporting farmers to undertake suitable habitat restoration and management to help reverse these declines.
 
Nationally important and scarce invertebrates such as the glacial relict beetle Pelophila borealis can also be found at Lough Beg.

Objectives

  • Maintain 5 square kilometres of wet grassland at Lough Beg for breeding waders and other priority species associated with these wetlands.
  • To support farmers to implement management on their land to support wildlife. If you are a farmer or landowner in the area and would like to take part in a free advisory session or attend any of our free events/demonstrations, please use the contact details below.
  • To promote and celebrate wildlife-friendly farming and the conservation, economic and health and well-being benefits this brings to the wider community. If you are a community group in the area and would like to take part and would like to attend any of our talks or events, please use the contact details below.
  • To use the project area as a demonstration and best-practice study for large-scale conservation through mechanisms such as the RSPB's Futurescapes projects and partnership working with other farmers and community, conservation or statutory bodies.
  • To recruit and train volunteers to deliver ecological surveys and monitor and run promotional events.

Progress

  • August 2010 - RSPB Lough Beg Management Plan backed by Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
  • September 2011 - More than a square kilometre of dense rush and scrub is controlled using a specialised low-pressure Soucy tractor.
  • August 2012 - Series of highly-successful public events initiated.
  • August 2013 - Site now being used as a demonstration site by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
  • December 2014 - An independent review shows major habitat improvements, including significant increases in breeding wader populations.
  • April 2015 - A conservation advisor is employed to add to the support provided to farmers and the community.

Planned Work

The Lough Beg Management Plan is now being reviewed and re-written for the next five years.
 
We plan to continue cutting more than half a square kilometre of rush with our specialised low-pressure tractor.
 
Regular advisory visits to all farmers with face-face advice on grazing management (stock types, densities and timings) and control of rush and invasive scrub, will be followed up with a workshop event once a year.
 
Close liaison with DARD and NIEA will continue to advocate for the best agri-environment measures and site management support for farmers.
 
We will also continue our series of highly-successful public engagement events to promote the astonishing 'all-nature' quality of Lough Beg.

Results

We are now recording the highest total number of breeding waders since the late 1990s - lapwing population has increased from two pairs in 2010 to 30 pairs in 2014 and at 54 pairs recorded in 2015 redshank is the highest since the late 1980s. We are also regularly counting more than 200 spikes of Irish lady’s tresses orchid and other rare plants and invertebrates.
 
Farmers have attended several events to demonstrate rush and scrub control and conservation grazing and also receive regular one-one support to deal with issues and questions as they arise. A big achievement has been to give them the support and confidence to manage the land within the constraints of the statutory site designations. To quote one farmer, 'The place now looks like it did when I used to bring the cattle down with my father’.
 
We have run a series of highly-successful public events such as our now-famous 'Orchid Walk' to hunt for the rare Irish lady’s tresses orchid and other special plants. They are attended by people from as far afield as Germany!
 
Our education team has also run a hugely popular 'Treasures of Lough Beg' Project with schools from throughout the community, bringing generations together by getting young people to record their parents' and grandparents' memories of the area.
 
The site has now also been used by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as a 'gold standard' site for training staff in wet grassland restoration and management, and we have had an article on the project published in the winter 2014 edition of the Journal of Conservation Land Management.

Funding

  • RSPB

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Gareth Bareham

Conservation Advisor, Reserves

gareth.bareham@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Wetland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection