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Threatened species thrive in the Antrim Hills

Last modified: 26 August 2015

Curlew profile

Image: Steve Round

Threatened species are thriving in the Antrim Hills thanks to the hard work of local landowners, new figures from RSPB Northern Ireland have revealed.

Since early spring, two staff from the conservation charity have been surveying more than 32 kilometres squared of habitat across Glenwherry -  the most intensive and comprehensive monitoring ever carried out in the area.

Despite extremely cold and wet weather during the breeding season, this year saw records broken, milestones achieved and no end of surprise discoveries.

Glenwherry holds a significant proportion of the NI curlew population and is considered on of the only remaining viable breeding populations in the country.

Curlews are red-listed (of highest conservation concern) in Ireland so to have 46 pairs recorded in the Antrim Hills this year is cause for celebration.

This is the first year of a new RSPB project designed to boost curlew numbers in six selected areas across the UK.

In Glenwherry, the work will involve habitat management including rush control, scrub removal and additional grazing.

Predator control of species known to impact on curlew breeding success, such as hooded crows, will also be carried out in a trial area and farmers will receive management advice throughout the year from their RSPB advisor.

This work is also likely to have benefits for other breeding wader species, including snipe and lapwing.

This year a staggering 121 pairs of snipe were recorded -  the first time over 100 pairs have been seen – and 42 pairs of lapwings.

Unfortunately the cold, wet weather earlier in the year resulted in around 80 per cent of lapwing failing at their first breeding attempt. Yet, somehow through this arctic blast a small number of fledged juveniles started to appear and the majority of the pairs settled down again for another try.  Thankfully, they were more successful the second time around with good numbers of pairs fledging young.

The team also recorded many other threatened bird species during their early-morning surveys, from grasshopper warblers to golden eagles. Perhaps the most unexpected find of the year was the first sighting of the rare Carabus clatratus beetle in County Antrim since 1896, demonstrating just what an important place Glenwherry is for a wide range of wildlife.

Neal Warnock, Conservation Advisor for the area, said: “It has been another eventful, exhausting and exhilarating summer in the shadow of Slemish.

“While care is needed when comparing overall numbers to previous years due to much-improved coverage this year, it’s undoubtedly been a good year for the birds and other wildlife which call Glenwherry home.

“For me, one of the highlights of the year was a curlew that could be found standing on top of telegraph posts along an otherwise quiet country road for much of June, watching over its chick.  It was possibly the most attentive parent I have ever seen and it was thrilling to watch its chick take flight on 12 July!”

Neal added: “The improving picture we are seeing in Glenwherry is down to the combined actions of over 70 farmers taking steps to manage their land with wildlife in mind and it’s great to see their efforts paying off."

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