Watching the ‘threatened’ birdie at Glenwherry

DESPITE the endless wet ground conditions over the past autumn and recent snow drifts, farmers in the Glenwherry area of the Antrim Hills have somehow managed to successfully prepare their fields for the return of breeding waders this spring.

Since early 2011 Neal Warnock, the Halting Environmental Loss Project (HELP) Officer with the RSPB has worked with local farmers and landowners to ensure that once common ground nesting birds such as the Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe have a chance of a future.

The hills of Glenwherry are one of the last remaining hotspots in Northern Ireland for these birds.

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Nearly £1.5 million has been given to HELP from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG IVA Programme, which is delivered locally by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Speaking about the project, which will run until August 2014, Neal said: “Late season grazing and rush control are vital in managing the rush pastures and grasslands of Glenwherry for these birds, however, ground conditions since the finish of the last breeding season have hampered farmers’ efforts to achieve this in their wader fields” said Neal.

However, during a few short windows of dry settled weather, many farmers managed to increase the numbers of stock in some fields in early autumn to get the sward grazed down and the dry spell in late February and early March saw a good number of farmers out cutting rush in their wader fields.

“I have been particularly encouraged by the increased numbers of cattle being kept out later in the year. In other parts of the UK, a switch from sheep to cattle grazing using traditional breeds has seen breeding wader numbers flourish in upland areas” said Neal.

“Approximately 90 hectares of rush has been controlled by local farmers this spring. This creates ideal nesting environments for the birds, who like to have a clear view around them to keep an eye on approaching danger,” he said.

The breeding season is now underway and Neal is keen for people to get in touch if they see these birds in the area.

Early season searches around traditional breeding grounds have shown that healthy number of Lapwing, known locally as Peesweeps, have returned to breed. By mid-March a few Curlew began to arrive back along the Glenwherry River Valley. However, at the moment most of these birds will have flown back towards the coast to escape the Siberian conditions. A late breeding season this year seems highly likely.

“The hills of Glenwherry are one of the last remaining hotspots in Northern Ireland for these birds. The Curlew is in particular trouble, with perhaps as few as 200 breeding pairs left in the country. It is vital that the hard work of Glenwherry farmers is recognised and supported, if this species is to survive as a breeding bird long into the future” said Neal.

If you see breeding waders in the Glenwherry area, please contact Neal Warnock at [email protected] or call 07703716840.