New conservation project hopes to tackle ‘continuous decline’ in Lough Neagh birds

Curlew: Now a rare site on Lough Neagh
Curlew: Now a rare site on Lough Neagh

Following years of continuous decline in the number of wetland birds around Lough Neagh, Lough Neagh Partnership hopes to address the problem in conjunction with local landowners.

Funded by Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the conservation project will be carried out in three stages.

The first is to set up a forum of landowners and farmers working along the shoreline who are interested in conservation.

After this LNP plans to map areas around the lough that have seen a serious loss of wet grassland, and in turn wetland birds, to prioritise areas for action.

Thirdly, LNP plans to draw up a conservation management plan, they will hope will reverse the decline and ensure the lough keeps its Special Protected Area [SPA] status and remains an Area of Special Scientific Interest [ASSI].

Lough Neagh is one of the most important wetland areas in the UK and Ireland and has been listed under these designations as it is a unique wetland habitat to migrating birds such as Wigeon and Goldeneye or the Whooper Swan, together with local breeding wetland birds such as the Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew.

Despite years of work from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, local farmers and conservation groups such as the RSPB, the overall decline in the numbers of wetland birds around the whole of the lough continues.

Manager of Lough Neagh Partnership, Charlie Monaghan, said : “The Lough has seen a serious decline in the amount of migrating birds and has also seen a loss of good habitat for breeding wetland birds.

“However, this does not mean that the decline cannot be slowed down, stopped or reversed but it is important to firstly assess, map and identify the problems that are there.

“It is also important to engage with local farmers and landowners to try and gain local buy in and find local solutions and suggestions.”

The mapping process has already begun and the next step is to set up a forum of landowners and farmers who work on the immediate shoreline of the lough who would be interested in feeding into a new SPA/ASSI conservation plan for it.

If you would like to be involved please contact Gerry Darby at Lough Neagh Partnership on 028 7941 7941 or email darby.gerry@gmail.com.