Unseasonably cold and wet weather this spring led to challenging breeding conditions for threatened birds in Fermanagh, new figures from RSPB Northern Ireland have revealed.
The shores and islands of Lough Erne are a haven for birds like lapwings, redshanks, snipe and curlew. However these species, collectively known as breeding waders, have all suffered population crashes in recent decades, largely due to habitat loss.
They thrive in wet grassland habitat where grazing is carefully managed. Because they nest on the ground, it’s important that rush is controlled and varying lengths of grass cover are present to allow them to nest and raise their young successfully.
Unfortunately the cold, wet weather earlier this year made breeding difficult.
On the RSPB NI reserve, which is made up of more than 40 islands, lapwings seem to have struggled most – with 12 fewer pairs breeding compared to 2014.
Elsewhere, on 18 sites around Lough Erne where the charity provides advice to landowners, there was a slight decrease in the number of curlew and redshank recorded.
“These results are testament to a great deal of hard work by site staff, volunteers, farmers, graziers and local contractors on the ground.”RSPB NI Fermanagh area manager, Brad Robson
However, across the board it was a great year for snipe. Between reserve and advisory sites numbers jumped from a total of 157 pairs last year to 196 this summer - a 20 per cent increase.
Snipe are amber-listed (of medium conservation concern) in the UK and Ireland, which makes this stronghold in Fermanagh all the more important.
It was also a good year for Fermanagh’s Sandwich tern population.
Sandwich terns spend the winter off the west African coast before heading to Gravel Ridge Island in Lower Lough Erne to breed. This breeding colony is unique as normally they only nest at the coast.
Counts this year revealed 138 pairs, up from 124 last year, and a good rate of breeding success.
RSPB NI Fermanagh area manager, Brad Robson, said: “These results are testament to a great deal of hard work by site staff, volunteers, farmers, graziers and local contractors on the ground.
“After several years of increases it is only to be expected that some natural phenomena, in this case the Fermanagh weather, would have an impact at some stage. Snow in late April and the particularly wet spring and early summer made life very difficult for incubating birds and young chicks.”
He added: “The increases in snipe are very welcome and were repeated across a number of RSPB NI reserves. Work is now in full swing to prepare habitats for next spring and hopefully the weather will be a little kinder.”