Record NI breeding season brings renewed hope

There is renewed hope for one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered birds after an unprecedented breeding season.

Sixty-nine curlew chicks were recorded in Glenwherry, County Antrim, during 2022, the RSPB NI said.

That’s more than double the number that flew from nests there in 2021.

The curlew is threatened with extinction in Northern Ireland within the next decade, with an 82% decline since 1987.

Farmers and landowners have received habitat management advice to help ground-nesting species.

The number of curlews returning to breed at Glenwherry has declined in recent years.

curlew chick

“Every chick counts when it comes to curlews in Northern Ireland,” said Katie Gibb, RSPB conservation officer.

Katie Gibb, RSPB NI conservation officer for the area, said the 2022 results could mark a turning point.

“What this season means is that in the next five years we could have over 30 new pairs coming back to the area to breed, which would be a massive, healthy influx of new, young, fertile genetics for this population,” he said.

“The number of chicks we’ve seen fledge this year is not only encouraging, it’s unequivocal proof that landscape-scale nature conservation and protection works, and must remain a priority to address the biodiversity crisis.” .

‘Game changer for conservation’

Those protection works include helping farmers implement more nature-friendly practices through DAERA’s Environmental Farming Scheme and supporting projects like Curlews in Crisis.

Temporary electrified fences were installed around the nests to protect the birds from ground predators. There were also specific measures to control the number of other predators.

“It really is a case of every chick counts when it comes to curlews in Northern Ireland,” said Ms Gibb.

She said that in the past year, Glenwherry’s team had installed the most targeted nest fences, which protect nesting chicks from predators, at a single site in the UK.

“The fences and knowledge of pairs reunited in previous seasons have been a game changer for curlew conservation at our site,” he added.

She described the increase in hatching rates, from around 40% to 70%, as “a real game changer for curlew conservation on the Antrim Plateau.”

Nearly 8,000 hectares on the plateau, including Glenwherry and Antrim Hills, were surveyed to find nests to monitor.

Amy Burns, Director of the RSPB

Amy Burns said there could be more chicks hatching in Lower Lough Erne, but the terrain of the islands makes tracking difficult.

In County Fermanagh, a further 11 chicks were recorded to have successfully fledged on Lower Lough Erne RSPB NI reserve, with four of the young hatching on the same day on the same island.

The charity’s property manager, Amy Burns, said there could be more, because the terrain of the islands, scattered across the lake, is difficult to monitor accurately.

“A total of 23 pairs of curlews hatching young have been recorded this season in this area, with 18 nests located, 17 of which successfully hatched complete clutches,” he said.

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