Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots, took to the waves recently in Lower Lough Erne to see some of the important work being undertaken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to enhance breeding habitats on local islands.

RSPB Northern Ireland manages the biodiversity on around 40 islands in Lough Erne, with some of the biggest challenges arising from vegetation management and a lack of grazing.

Speaking after the visits, Minister Poots said: “Any action to help our declining populations of breeding waders, especially curlew, has to be welcomed. It is a significant challenge.

Image source RSPB

“I had the opportunity to see some of the great work being undertaken by farmers and the RSPB in Glenwherry recently, which is supported by both the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA’s) Environment Fund and the Environmental Farming Scheme. Lough Erne is another important stronghold of these birds and the islands, in particular, [it can] offer extra protection due to the reduced pressure from predators.

“The fact that we’re using a boat specially designed for the RSPB to transport livestock to the islands, again underlines the vital role that appropriate agricultural management plays in helping to maintain such habitats.

“This sustained, collaborative working between farmers, organisations such as the RSPB and my Department will be crucial in helping to address the environmental and climate challenges facing us in the future.”

‘Correct pressure and timing of grazing are crucial on islands’

RSPB’s NI director Joanne Sherwood added: “Managing island habitats, by their very nature, present challenges. Breeding waders need a mosaic of short swards with taller vegetation for cover and muddy feeding areas for survival.

“Cattle grazing is essential to maintain this, but only if the pressure and timing is correct.

“We’re delighted the Minister has visited both the Glenwherry uplands and Lough Erne lowlands to see these challenges and how they’re being tackled at first hand and we hope that he will consider enhancing the designation status of these important areas.

“DAERA support and funding is key to our work as is the Environmental Farming Scheme to encourage and reward farmers for their essential management role on these sites.”