Guest blog by Anne-Marie McDevitt


Today, on Endangered Species Day I want to share with you some of our endangered species in Northern Ireland - how RSPB NI works to help them, and what you can do to help.

Birds as indicators of the health of our environment

Although beautiful and fascinating in their own right, as birds occur in virtually every habitat across the world and are at the top of the food chain they’re also great indicators of the health of the environment. This is helped by the fact that they’re easy to see and identify (relatively) and are much-loved! Healthy populations of birds, whether seabirds like puffins, summer migrants like cuckoos or farmland birds like curlews, tell us that our environment is in good shape.

Starlings

 Known for their incredible winter flocks, known as murmurations, and number 2 in Big Garden BirdWatch, it surprises many people to find that starlings have declined by over 50% since 1995, and are of the highest conservation concern because their high rate of decline. We’re carrying out research to find out why. This glossy and gregarious bird is heavily dependent on soil invertebrates like earthworms and leatherjackets, and it is possible this food supply has either declined or become less available during dry summers. This reduction in invertebrates may be down to land-use changes and modern agricultural practices which can damage soils.

Curlews

 This farmland wading bird nests on the ground in damp, rushy grassland and peatland in summer, and feeds at the coast in winter. Their habitat has been reduced and fragmented by drainage, peat cutting and the switch to silage, which is cut several times per year and doesn’t provide safe nesting.  Curlews are globally threatened - the UK is the second most important country in Europe for breeding curlews. The Northern Ireland population has declined by four-fifths since the late 80s and is now fewer than 250 pairs. We work closely with farmers in NI’s remaining key areas for curlews  - Fermanagh and the Antrim Hills and have halted the decline with more intensive work planned to help the population increase.

Roseate terns

 On the UK red list, this beautiful seabird, named for the rosy flush on its breeding plumage, is the rarest seabird in the UK and has severely declined in number and range. Roseate terns nest on islands in sea loughs and offshore – their only nesting site in Northern Ireland is on Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough. Threats include disturbance, loss of habitat, predation and lack of food due to climate change. RSPB is doing its bit by leading on a UK-wide European Union (EU) funded project to create a network of safe nesting sites for roseate across the UK and Ireland.

Corncrakes

 Corncrakes are best known for their distinctive ‘crex crex’ call, which it makes throughout the night. Once common across the UK and Ireland, this species has undergone a huge historical decline and is now globally threatened. Arriving in mid-April from wintering grounds in Africa, corncrakes seek out tall vegetation - nettles are excellent - then move into hay meadows to breed. Corncrakes need to have two broods to keep the population stable, which means no field cutting until early September, and cutting in a corncrake-friendly way to let adults and young escape. Their decline is closely tied to the switch from hay to silage, with fields being cut earlier and faster. Corncrakes are now confined to places where agriculture is more traditional – the north-west and west of Ireland, and the Western Isles of Scotland. As a result of over a decade of hard work by RSPB NI reserve staff, farmers, and volunteers, we now have corncrakes breeding on Rathlin Island. 

Irish Damselfly

 Northern Ireland holds the entire UK population, a significant proportion of the Irish population and the largest population in Western Europe of this beautiful blue and green damselfly. Estimated as declining by about 10% per decade, Irish damselflies prefer small lakes with floating aquatic plants, fringed by emerging plants, and is also found in shallow pools in peatland. It is affected by the lowering of lake levels and eutrophication (excessive nutrient run-off from land creating dense plant growth). RSPB NI, with funding from SEUPB via the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity project are working to create more open water for Irish damselfly at Montiaghs Moss in Co Antrim, to the SW of Lough Neagh. 

Irish Lady’s Tresses Orchid

 This beautiful creamy-white orchid, named because the spiral arrangement of flowers resembles plaited hair, is restricted in Europe to the UK and Ireland with NI holding one third of the UK population and about half of the total Irish population. It is found in wet meadows and has been affected by drainage, use of fertilisers and herbicides and changes in grazing patterns – either over or under-grazing. We manage land at several of our reserves to benefit Irish lady’s tresses, with over 1,000 spikes recorded at Lough Beg alone.

How Can You Help?
If you’re a member of RSPB our thanks go out to you for your continued support. Not a member?  Think of joining or giving membership as a gift - your membership funds us to do more, but also helps us when we are asking government to make big changes to benefit nature.
https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/join-us-today

Image credits: starling -  Ric Else / curlew - Neal Warnock / roseate tern - Chris Gomersall (RSPB-images.com) / corncrake - Ronald Surgenor/ Irish damselfly - Anne Guichard

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