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Getting Down to Nature in East County Down

Last modified: 08 February 2013

Tree sparrows feeding on ground

Image: Andy Hay

The RSPB have named East County Down a Nature Friendly Area as part of a new project, thanks to EU Life+ funding. Across the UK the RSPB have selected a series of target areas, in which to survey and offer advice. These areas have been chosen carefully for their importance for farmland wildlife. East County Down has been selected as the RSPB’s Nature Friendly Area in Northern Ireland. With its diverse habitats, East County Down is rich in wildlife, including threatened bird and butterfly species, including the Yellowhammer and Wall Brown butterfly. 

This new project will follow on from the success of the RSPB’s Yellowhammer Recovery Project, a five year study that demonstrated that agri-environment farming schemes support the yellowhammer and other seed-eating farmland birds. Yellowhammer populations increased by over 50% in farms under the DARD Countryside Management Scheme and by remarkable 79% at sites which received the highest level of management advice from RSPB advisors.

RSPB Conservation Manager, Claire Barnett, said “The study shows the importance of wildlife-friendly farming for these threatened birds and other farmland wildlife. To ensure that yellowhammers and other seed-eating birds continue to have a bright future, we will expand this work across farms in the East County Down area”

William Bassett from Killyleagh has been involved in the Yellowhammer Recovery Project since 2006, when looking back on his involvement in the project he said “I have always thought of myself as a custodian of the countryside and as a farmer I am frequently reminded about this responsibility. This RSPB project has helped me appreciate the yellowhammers, tree sparrows and Irish hares on my farm. I am looking forward to the next stage and have no doubt the new Nature Friendly Area will be something generations of farmers can be proud to play a part in”

The new project will provide free, confidential wildlife surveys on farms in East County Down, delivered by a trained RSPB volunteer. When complete, the results of the survey will be sent to the farmer on a laminated farm map and farmers will receive tailored advice on how to best manage the habitat for the species recorded. The impact of this targeted advice will be monitored through repeat surveys on a three year basis.

RSPB Project Officer, Hayley Sherwin, said “In terms of wildlife in general, East County Down is a very special place. Strangford Lough, the only Marine Nature Reserve in Ireland, supports internationally important populations of Light Bellied Brent Geese and the Sheepland Coast is a ‘hotspot’ for the declining Wall Brown butterfly”.

As the most arable area in Northern Ireland, the farmland supports significant populations of threatened seed-eating birds such as the Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow and Linnet. Hayley said: “During the Yellowhammer Recovery and Volunteer Farmer Alliance Projects, we have worked with a range of fantastic wildlife-friendly farmers within this area. As a result of these partnerships we have seen very encouraging results so far. Through this new project we aim to work with more farmers and landowners so that we can continue to support farmland wildlife into the future”.

If you live in East County Down and would like to receive a free wildlife survey on your farm or if you are interested in volunteering to carry out a survey, please contact Hayley Sherwin on 028 90491547 or

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