Record-breaking NI breeding season brings renewed hope

There is renewed hope for one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered birds after a record-breaking breeding season.

In 2022, sixty-nine curlews were registered in Glenwherry, County Antrim, RSPB NI said.

That is more than double the number that flew out of nests there in 2021.

The curlew is threatened with extinction in Northern Ireland within a decade, with numbers declining by 82% since 1987.

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

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

Curlew young

“Every chick counts when it comes to curlew in Northern Ireland,” said Katie Gibb, conservation officer for the RSPB

Katie Gibb, RSPB NI’s 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 more than 30 new pairs returning to the area to breed, which would be a huge and healthy influx of young, fertile, new genetics for this population,” said she.

“The number of chicks we’ve seen fledge this year is not only heartwarming, it’s unequivocal evidence that wildlife conservation and conservation work on a landscape scale and must remain a priority in tackling the biodiversity crisis.”

‘Game changer for nature conservation’

That conservation work includes helping farmers implement more wildlife-friendly practices through DAERA’s Environmental Farming Scheme and supporting projects such as Curlews in Crisis.

Temporary electrified fences were placed around nesting sites to protect the birds from predators on the ground. There were also targeted measures to control the number of other predators.

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

She said Glenwherry’s team had installed the largest number of targeted nest barriers – which protect nesting chicks from predators – at one UK site in the past year.

“The fences and the knowledge of the pairs we collected in previous seasons have been a breakthrough for curlew conservation at our site,” she added.

She described the increase in hatching rates, from about 40% to 70%, as a sign of “a real turnaround for curlew conservation on the Antrim plateau”.

Nearly 8,000 acres on the plateau, including Glenwherry and the Antrim Hills, were surveyed to find the nests for monitoring.

RSPB Director Amy Burns

Amy Burns said more chicks could hatch in Lower Lough Erne, but the islands’ terrain makes it hard to track

A further 11 chicks were recorded in County Fermanagh to successfully leave the nest on the Lower Lough Erne RSPB NI Reserve, with four of the broods hatching on the same day on the same island.

The charity’s estate manager, Amy Burns, said there could be more, as the terrain of islands scattered around the lake is difficult to track accurately.

“A total of 23 pairs of curlews incubating young were recorded in this area this season, with 18 nests, 17 of which successfully hatched full clutches,” she said.

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