Guest blog by Laura Smith, Portmore Lough Warden

Anyone who has popped along to our Portmore Lough reserve will have noticed a few positive changes since last year.

Last autumn, we carried out work to expand and enhance our open water and wet grassland habitats at the reserve. We wanted to create more breeding and foraging habitat for our key wetland bird species, as well as to improve the viewing experience for our visitors.

The existing pond – as visitors can see from the viewing platform - has been enhanced and extended to create a system of open water pools with shallow muddy edges. An 800 metre-long earth bund has been constructed to help retain water on this area and we have installed a pipe sluice to allow us to control the water level in the pools. The predator fence has been extended by 1km to include the four-hectare area with the new pools.

These improvements will provide breeding and foraging habitat for wading birds including lapwings (below) and their chicks, as well as other wetland species.

We have also made improvements to the adjacent breeding wader habitat, constructing almost 3km of earth bunding and 2.5km of new foot drains surrounding 27 hectares of lowland wet grassland.

The habitat work and subsequent grazing has proved a real success over the breeding season, with a whole range of species benefitting from the new areas of nesting and foraging habitat

Our reserve priority species nested within the new area of pools, including lapwings and snipe, as well as common terns, a feature of the Lough Neagh/Beg Special Protection Area, which nested alongside the black-headed gulls on the areas of bare ground near the new pools. Tufted ducks, pochards (below), shovelers, mallards, little grebes, moorhens, coots, greylag geese and mute swans have all nested there this year too.

The pools, along with other enhancements of the wet grassland habitat, were created thanks to funding from the Alpha Programme, managed by Groundwork NI.

Why not plan a visit to Portmore? Details here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/PortmoreLough

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