Guest blog by Ruby Free, Campaigning Communications Officer, RSPB NI

Last week RSPB NI Youth Campaigners set sail to Rathlin Island.

Last week the RSPB NI Youth Campaigners took a trip to Rathlin and got stuck into a number of exciting activities. From looking around the Corncrake habitats they’d helped to conserve, to walking around the newly opened Craigmacagan Trail and getting involved in a range of community activities such as beach cleaning and nature-friendly gardening, it was a truly inspiring day!

 

Picture of the youth campaigners who went to Rathlin

Who are the Youth Campaigners?


RSPB NI Youth Campaigner volunteers

The youth voice is vital in tackling the nature and climate emergency and RSPB NI are proud to have a passionate community of young people to help us save nature. Our RSPB NI Youth Campaigners are a group of environmentalists aged from 13 – 29 who take part in demonstrations, rallies and often help with conservation projects. They often have community days which help them build connections to the world around them and become more passionate about protect it.

We caught up with them about their recent trip to Rathlin, an island situated off the north-east coast of Ireland. The island is a hotspot for biodiversity and is home to an internationally important seabird population, which can be viewed from the RSPB NI reserve at the West Light Seabird Centre.

Seabird colony

About their day

Sailing over on the Rathlin Express, Fairhead dominated the horizon and gannets flew alongside us, giving us a warm welcome. The sight of common seals on the shore by the Rue Point Lighthouse and the white cottages in the harbour came into view as we approached Church Bay.  We knew we were in for a beautiful day on the island.


Ferry to Rathlin

When we arrived, our group set off for a wildlife walk starting at the corncrake fields near Church Bay, leading on to the newly opened Craigmacagan Trail, along the east of the island.

As part of the ‘Giving Corncrakes a Home’ project, the Youth Campaigners helped to dig nettles on farms throughout Northern Ireland throughout the year, which were then replanted on Rathlin, to give corncrakes the habitat they need during breeding season. It was exciting for our volunteers to see the habitat thriving that they had helped to create.

 

Youth Campaigners digging nettles on a nature friendly farm

Anne Guichard, Conservation Officer for RSPB NI, led a guided walk around the field, giving a fascinating talk about corncrake and their life cycles, showcasing the incredible conservation achievements to date. With species numbers in decline since the 1980’s hearing four calling males was very special. This iconic sound wouldn’t be heard here if it wasn’t for the work carried out by RSPB NI staff and volunteers!

 Youth Campaigners 

Next up was a stunning walk around the Craigmacagan Trail. A brand-new walking trail that’s just been opened, you can expect to see an array of incredible wildlife as you explore! From the elusive golden hare to skylarks, and seabirds to seals, and everything in between. Walking through a blanket of vibrant the heather, the yellow, purple, and pink hues light up the island and the wildlife put on a show.

The Craigmacagan Trail on Rathlin Island

After a spot of lunch, we spent the afternoon getting stuck into community activities, including beach cleaning, painting and gardening!

Rathlin Island’s ruralness means it’s a magnet for wildlife, but also for litter, with the tide often bringing in unwanted debris. Being careful not to disturb the wildlife, our litter picking session on Church Bay made a direct impact for local species including seals and nesting birds. Altogether, 6 big bags of litter was collected, removing 20kg of litter from Rathlin!

 

Litter pick on Rathlin

Other activities included helping out on a community polytunnel and nature-friendly gardening for the local community.

There is a new polytunnel on Rathlin hopes to provide fresh food for locals who live there and visitors who stay there. By potting up pollinator friendly plants, and maintaining nature friendly habitats, these small acts can make a massive difference to local wildlife and people.

 

Nature friendly gardening


These afternoon activities created a lovely opportunity to meet locals and tell them about our passionate group. We also got talking to the local school children, hopefully inspiring the next generation of environmental campaigners.

After an action-packed day on the island, it was time to take the Rathlin Express back to Ballycastle. Ending the day on a high, we made our way across Rathlin Sound feeling fulfilled, inspired, and ready to take more action for nature.

 

If you would like to become a Youth Campaigner for RSPB NI, contact ni.campaigns@rspb.org.uk or apply directly to the role here Campaigner (Youth Campaigner, Northern Ireland) | RSPB Volunteering

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