Guest blog by Roisin Kearney, Conservation Officer at RSPB NIThis International Women’s Day, I thought it would be good to shine the spotlight on some of the brilliant women who work for RSPB NI. Our work to help save nature in Northern Ireland wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful women who contribute so much. As you may or may not know, the RSPB was originally founded by a group of pioneering women in the late 19th century. These women campaigned to raise awareness of the damaging effect of the plume (feather) trade on bird populations. At the time, bird plumes were used widely as ornaments for ladies’ hats and birds all across the world were killed in their droves to fuel this trade, including hummingbirds, egrets and birds of paradise, as well as native species including herons, kingfishers and owls. The RSPB has never lost sight of the contribution of these incredible women and this can be seen in our workforce today. For example, RSPB Northern Ireland currently has a gender-equal workforce with women represented at all levels of the organisation and in all types of work, from hands-on work on our reserves to administration, finance, policy and all the way up to our director. My own role covers a mix of different duties. My main work is on planning and casework, based in our office in Belfast. I work to ensure that developments in Northern Ireland - for example wind farms and solar farms - will not have any negative impacts on our most important sites for nature, including internationally important areas like Lough Neagh and the Antrim Hills. Part of my work also involves working with the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI) to raise awareness of wildlife crime issues such as bird nest destruction and the persecution of our birds of prey. It’s not cheerful work but it is important. Perhaps the most fun part of my work is in the summer months when I get to go out and work on our funded red kite project (RKites). I am a qualified tree climber and bird ringer, so my days are spent climbing trees and ringing lovely fluffy red kite chicks so we can monitor them in the future.Read on to hear about the work carried out by my colleagues Amy, Anne-Marie and Caroline...Amy Burns - Fermanagh Reserves WardenI am responsible for the daily operation of RSPB’s most westerly reserve, delivering conservation work across the 435 hectares of the Lower Lough Erne Islands Reserve. My role is incredibly varied and two days are never the same, but the core of my work involves creating and implementing the annual habitat management and surveying programme and delivering that through the reserves team to protect a diverse range of priority species and habitats. My most recent challenges have been developing a better understanding of the reserve’s population of breeding curlews using technology including thermal imaging cameras, drones and data loggers to understand factors affecting nesting success. I have been actively working through the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) project to deliver habitat management for curlews on Upper Lough Erne recently too. I can honestly say I could never get bored of what I do as I’m tested everyday with challenging weather conditions, decision-making and logistical issues but I’m rewarded by knowing that my job really makes a difference to wildlife and special places in Fermanagh.
Anne-Marie McDevitt - RSPB NI Head of ConservationI’ve been lucky to have worked in conservation for 27 years. After completing a degree in Zoology, I secured my first job as Little Tern Warden for the National Trust in Northumberland. I then spent a year working on the endemic pink pigeon for the Mauritian Wildlife Fund, a never-to-be-forgotten experience! I followed this with work for BirdWatch Ireland on corncrakes and Countryside Council for Wales on agri-environment schemes. I returned home when I saw a great job advertised – a chance to work with RSPB NI on agri-environment schemes advising farmers and training staff from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) - as it was known then - to ensure the scheme delivered conservation action for Northern Ireland’s priority habitats and species. After doing this for eight years, I moved to my current role of Head of Conservation at the end of 2009, with a short stint working as Chief Operating Officer for Manx BirdLife. So I have worked in lots of different areas, from species protection, advisory, direct conservation delivery and project management through to policy and advocacy. I've also been lucky enough to work on several bird conservation projects abroad as a volunteer or through sabbaticals - Seychelles magpie robin, a seabird restoration project in the Azores, and more recently a stint in Iceland surveying Leach’s petrel.(The photo of Anne-Marie in her youth, above right, was taken on a boat off Rathlin Island).Caroline Marshall - Programme Manager, Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB)Managing a large-scale project for the RSPB is as varied as it is interesting. One day you can be scrutinising a spreadsheet highlighting how, when and where money will be spent and the next you could be in a different country standing on the wind-strewn blanket bog showcasing your project to representatives of the EU. As Programme Manager for CABB, I spend most of my working day staring at a screen forecasting spend, dealing with emails, making phone calls, attending meetings and writing reports. Managing CABB, with its six project partners and €4.9m budget, is all about making sure that the team delivers quality outputs on time and to budget. As with any project, issues arise and dealing with these as a team and in a measured and concerted way helps the whole project stay on track. On the rare occasion that I get outside, I relish it; it gives me time to contemplate and reminds me why I got into environmental work in the first place.
For more information about the women who founded the RSPB see https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/natureshomemagazine/posts/five-women-who-founded-the-rspb
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