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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Conservation efforts helps bring Curlews back from the brink

Curlew chick crossing the road

After a successful 2023 breeding season, RSPB NI this week announced that conservation efforts at Lough Erne and on the Antrim Hills to bring back one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered birds have yielded strong results again this year.

The charity has been working with local farmers and landowners across Northern Ireland to help bring this much-loved species back from the brink of extinction as a breeding bird, as part of the ‘Curlews in Crisis’ project, a four-year project funded by the EU’s LIFE programme and other partners.

The once familiar call of the Curlew is a sound sadly fading into memories and stories. Since 1987, the breeding Curlew population in Northern Ireland has fallen by 82%, due to habitat loss, low breeding productivity and predation. It is estimated that we only have 150 remaining breeding pairs of Curlew in Northern Ireland.

Monitoring 8,000 hectares across the Antrim Hills, 30 Curlew nests were discovered out of 37 pairs during the 2023 breeding season.

Twenty-seven temporary electric fences were erected, meaning nests were protected from predators while the Curlew parents incubated the eggs. The outcome was an impressive 96% hatching success rate across the protected sites.

Katie Gibb, Conservation Officer for RSPB NI working in the Antrim Hills said:

“I am utterly thrilled that our conversation efforts are starting to pay off, the early starts and late nights have all been worth it. With 55 chicks fledging this year and the return of juvenile birds from previous years – there is a flicker of hope for species recovery for Curlew in Northern Ireland.

"Within the first three years of the project, in conjunction with DAERA’s Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) group option which supports farmers to help Curlew on their land, we have managed to get a total of 152 chicks fledged”.

Curlew eggs in nest.

In County Fermanagh, 52 pairs of Curlew were recorded by the team at Lough Erne: a significant increase from previous years. These pairs were across the Lower Lough Erne Islands Reserve and on land where the RSPB Advisory team give support to farmers in Upper and Lower Lough Erne.

Amy Burns, Estate Manager of RSPB NI’s Lower Lough Erne Islands Reserve said:

“We are delighted to report that 43 breeding pairs of Curlew were recorded across the reserve this year. This is an amazing achievement, with the highest density of breeding Curlew in Ireland over only 200 hectares of lowland wet grassland, and excited to see a big increase from the 36 pairs recorded last year.”

The call and striking silhouette of the Eurasian Curlew are known to many as an iconic part of our upland farmland, lowland wetlands, and coastal areas. Sadly, these remarkable birds are in trouble with their population declining, and without intervention, this species was predicted to be extinct in Northern Ireland within the next ten years. These promising results give a glimmer of hope but there is still a long road of intensive conservation interventions needed to restore Curlews to their former numbers. 

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