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Project 19: Island Habitat Restoration

This project focuses on the habitat restoration of RSPB managed islands on Lower Lough Erne aiming to secure a stable and growing population of four key breeding wader species, curlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank. Ensuring they remain an integral feature within the Lough Erne landscape for generations to come.

Project Partner:

Project 19: Island Habitat Restoration

Project Partner:

This project focuses on the habitat restoration of RSPB managed islands on Lower Lough Erne aiming to secure a stable and growing population of four key breeding wader species; curlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank. Ensuring they remain an integral feature within the Lough Erne landscape for generations to come.

Within the LELP landscape area species like curlew and lapwing have seen dramatic declines in their populations since the 1980’s, 82% and 89 % respectively. This project facilitates large scale habitat creation across seven islands on Lower Lough Erne, through removing regenerating scrub from open grassland habitat to re-creating open wet grassland conditions. The project will also include installation of predator exclusion fences to ensure nesting success and chick survival.

It has been shown that habitat management activity to date on the RSPB reserves on Lough Erne islands has been effective in reversing this decline. This project aims to build on that success to secure a stable and growing population of all four species.

Instagram ¦ Lough_Erne_Nature

For more information contact Elmarie Swanepoel call: 077025 08777 email:

Related Videos

Amy Burns – RSPB NI talking about Restoration of Island Habitats in Lough Erne

Developing Nature Friendly Landscapes – Workshop 1 Curlews and Other Breeding Waders, Anne Marie McDevitt

Joanne Sherwood, Director RSPB NI, visits Trasna Island on Lower Lough Erne Reserve

BBC One ‘The Chronicles of Erne’ join the RSPB – March 2020

Project Updates

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunity – February 2022

Opportunity to volunteer on one of the RSPB NI Lower Lough Erne Island Reserves (Transa Island) carrying out habitat restoration works and learning more about breeding waders on Lough Erne

Dates to be confirmed February 2022, however register your interest by contacting 

Developing Nature Friendly Landscapes for Breeding Waders: A series of Virtual Workshops – January 2022

The Lough Erne Landscape Partnership in partnership with Curlew Life are hosing a series of three virtual workshops focusing on the plight of breeding waders within our landscape.

We will be joined by a range of expert speakers at each workshop and discover how more about these magnificent birds and how we can help to restore the habitat to ensure the population can once again thrive in the Lough Erne region.

Workshop 1 – Curlews and Other Breeding Waders

Tuesday 16 November 2021 at 7:00pm

For Further details click here.

Workshop 2 – Farmland Management to Support Breeding Waders

Thursday 9 December 2021 at 7pm

For Further details click here.

Workshop 3 – Curlews in Crises – Securing the Future for Breeding Waders

Tuesday 18 January 2021 at 7pm

For further details click here.

Photo Credit – Amy Burns
Developing Nature Friendly Landscapes for Breeding Waders: Workshop 2 Management of Farmlands – December 2021

This workshop is the second of three that will focus on the plight of the curlew and other breeding wader bird species once commonly found roaming the farmlands and wetlands of the Lough Erne landscape. We are delighted to be joined by three guest speakers, who will explore the management of farmlands and how we can work together to develop habitats for breeding waders.

Speakers on the night:

  • Mike Meharg – Chair of Nature Friendly Farmers Network

Michael Meharg farms a 250 ha suckler cow enterprise in county Antrim which includes conservation on a number of protected sites in NI. Passionate about the environment and rare breeds and with a background in ecology Michael facilitates work with farmers in the Lough Neagh area Environmental Farming Scheme focusing on delivering for priority habitats and breeding waders. Michael is interested in how the public and the market can better support nature friendly farming produce across Northern Ireland.

  • Alan Morrow – DAERA
  • Brad Robson – RSPB

At this workshop you will learn about:

  • Funding options to help save the species on your land
  • Grazing requirements for breeding waders
  • Landscape management to support breeding waders
  • Minimising disturbance
  • Examples from farmers
Scrub Clearance on Trasna Island and White Island South Autumn Summary – December 2021

Blog Post from Fionnbarr Cross, Assistant Warden, RSPB, Lower Lough Erne

As Assistant Warden on RSPB Lower Lough Erne wildlife reserve since 2000, I have seen our resources and energy focus with increasing urgency on our breeding curlew. Since 2010 a series of large projects have improved conditions for curlew on eleven islands, (of 46 on the reserve). These have involved removal of scrub, felling of trees, reduction of hedgerows and installation of predator exclusion fences. Curlew responded well initially; our numbers increased from an average of 34 pairs in the five years either side of 2010 to 47 pairs in 2015. Since then we have witnessed a slow decline; this year we had 37 pairs.

Curlew LIFE has renewed our resolve and added resources. Dedicated project staff spent long hours in the field with us during spring and summer to improve our data gathering. This autumn, reserve staff have worked on habitat restoration on Trasna Island. This project involved the removal of mature trees and clearance of significant areas of scrub. RSPB acquired the island four years ago, although we facilitated grazing on it prior to that. 100 years ago, Trasna was a smallholding for a resident family. Our vision has been to restore it to a similar condition to provide another site for curlew at the southern end of the lough; several pairs nest on adjacent islands.

The restoration of Trasna island began two years ago under the Lough Erne Landscape Project (LELP), a Heritage Lottery Funded project. This funds from the Curlew LIFE has enabled its completion. In September using an excavator (we have a large barge, or cattle-cot, which can transport machinery as well as livestock) our staff completed removal of large piles of brash by burning, large tree trunks were cut up and removed from the meadows and finally, wet features were created to increase feeding for adults and chicks. The project is now complete and ready for the return of our breeding curlew next spring.

The photographs below show; an aerial photograph of Trasna Island, creation of open pools, scrub clearance and removal of large trunks.

Visit Autumn Habitat Management Works at RSPB Lower Lough Erne – Curlew LIFE for more information.

Developing Nature Friendly Landscapes for Breeding Waders: Workshop 1 Curlews and Other Breeding Waders – November 2021

The Lough Erne Landscape Partnership in partnership with Curlew Life are hosing a series of three virtual workshops focusing on the plight of breeding waders within our landscape.

We will be joined by a range of expert speakers at each workshop and discover how more about these magnificent birds and how we can help to restore the habitat to ensure the population can once again thrive in the Lough Erne region.

Workshop 1 – Curlews and Other Breeding Waders was held on Tuesday 16 November 2021 at 7:00pm

Check out the recording of the workshop below!

Guest Speaker – Anne-Marie McDevitt, Head of Species, RSPB Northern Ireland

Anne-Marie has been working in nature conservation for almost 30 years. Following her degree in Zoology from Aberystwyth University, she worked in a range of roles from species protection of little terns in Northumberland, to farm wildlife advisory in Wales, to species recovery of corncrakes in the Republic of Ireland, plus a stint in Mauritius working on the endangered pink pigeon!

She has spent the past 19 years working for RSPB Northern Ireland. Working jointly with RSPB and the Department of Agriculture on agri-environment schemes, she trained over 50 staff to ensure schemes delivered for priority species and habitats, and inputted into scheme design. As Head of Conservation Anne-Marie oversaw a team working on species recovery, conservation science, conservation advice and policy and advocacy. She was involved in the development and delivery of several large cross-border Interreg-funded projects targeting conservation action for a range of species and habitats from curlew and lapwing to wet grassland and blanket bog.

In her current role as Head of Species, Anne-Marie ensures RSPB NI is doing everything it can to improve the status of its 22 priority bird and 8 all-nature species. She also leads on the development of threatened species projects.

Bird Population Numbers 2019 vs 2021 – October 2021

Since 2019 the project has re-created open grassland conditions on White South and Trasna Islands. These sites have seen increased numbers of waders nesting successfully thanks to newly cleared areas and lowered hedgerows.

Curlew increased from 3pairs to 5pairrs on White South island and Trasna island supported a pair of nesting lapwing recorded for the first time in over fifty years.

FODC Chief Executive visit Lower Lough Erne Reserve – September 2021

Fermanagh Omagh District Council Chief Executive, Alison McCullagh, took to the open water in Lough Erne to see and hear first-hand about RSPB NI’s work to save some of Northern Ireland’s most endangered species such as curlews from extinction.

RSPB NI and the Council work in partnership on several of Lough Erne’s islands to restore and protect the area’s natural heritage. Some of this vital work for Fermanagh’s breeding wading birds, forms part of the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Photographed below are (from left to right):

  • Brad Robson, Site Manager, RSPB NI
  • Seamus Burns, NI West Area Manager, RSPB NI
  • Fionnbarr Cross, Assistant Warden Erne, RSPB NI
  • Elmarie Swanepoel, Programme Manager, Lough Erne Landscape Partnership
  • Joanne Sherwood, Director, RSPB NI
  • Alison McCullagh, Chief Executive, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council
  • John Boyle, Director of Community, Health and Leisure, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council
Joanne Sherwood, Director RSPB NI, visit Trasna Island – September 2021

Joanne Sherwood, Director of RSPB NI, visited Trasna Island in September 2021. Check out the video below where Joanne share’s some information about the habitat restoration which has taken place on Trasna Island on the Lower Lough Erne Reserve.

Minister Edwin Poots visit breeding wader islands – August 2021

Press Release from DAERA about Minister Poots visit to Lower Lough Erne Reserve RSPB Island Habitat.

Minister takes to the waves to visit breeding wader islands

Date published: 26 August 2021

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 RSPB to enhance breeding habitats on a number of islands.

Minister Edwin Poots is pictured with Brad Robinson, RSPBI NI field officer and Joanne Sherwood, RSBI NI Director at a recent visit to Lower Lough Erne to see work being undertaken by the RSPB NI.

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.  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 DAERA’s Environment Fund and the Environmental Farming Scheme.  Lough Erne is another important stronghold of these birds and the islands in particular, 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.”

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

Joanne Sherwood, RSPB’s NI Director commented“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.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) aims to protect and enhance biodiversity and water quality, and mitigate against climate change.
  2. The EFS Wider scheme is currently open for applications until the 10 September.
  3. The EFS Higher Scheme offers a number of options to manage and enhance breeding wader habitat.  Applications to the Higher Scheme will open again in Spring next year.
  4. Follow DAERA on Twitter(external link opens in a new window / tab) and Facebook(external link opens in a new window / tab).
  5. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office
  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
Celebrating World Curlew Day 2021 – April 2021

Wednesday 21st April is World Curlew Day 2021, and we are celebrating and raising awareness around this wader species.

Curlews are Europe’s largest wading bird and used to be a common sight on the shores of Lough Erne, however since 1987, the curlew population on the island of Ireland has declined by 89%! (RSPB NI, 2019). Lough Erne hosts approximately 25% of the Northern Ireland population or 20% of the all Ireland population. The Curlew is listed on the red list of vulnerable species and must be protected to ensure its survival into the future.

To address this worrying trend, LELP are currently supporting two projects being delivered by the RSPB and Lough Erne Wildfowlers Council in the restoration of habitat for breeding waders on Lough Erne. These projects are carrying out activities involving habitat management such as scrub clearance and seminatural grassland management to improve breeding and foraging conditions, working with and advising local landowners and farmers, and raising curlew awareness to the general public and what they can do to preserve this species.

Curlews are elusive wading birds, identifiable by their long down turned beak, brown markings, long legs and have a very distinctive call. Curlews nest from mid-April to mid-July and require a month to incubate their eggs, with chicks fledging around 5-6 weeks after hatching.

Like other wading birds, curlews nest on the ground and favour areas where vegetation is typical of damp habitats, making the shores of Lough Erne the ideal habitat for nesting sites.

Curlews eat all sorts of invertebrates picked from the surface or found by probing soft ground. Adults feed on earthworms, leatherjackets, beetles, spiders, caterpillars; chicks generally feed on surface insects.

What can you do to help the curlew? 

  • If walking along shorelines of potential curlew habitat, ensure to avoid long rushes or grassy area’s where curlews may be nesting, especially at this time of year (April to July).
  • Keep all dogs on a lead to avoid unnecessary disturbance to breeding pairs.
  • Encourage traditionally managed grasslands as the greater diversity of grasses, herbs and flowering plants provide more insect food for chicks and adults to feed on.
  • Tell others, comment your curlew photos, record your sightings and help raise awareness about this amazing wading bird, living on our shores here in Co. Fermanagh!
BBC One ‘The Chronicles of Erne’ join the RSPB – March 2020

In March 2020, just before lockdown, Amy Burns and Finnbar Cross where joined by the BBC One programme “The Chronicles of Erne” on the lough whilst they where doing their migratory bird survey.

Check out the footage below, and to watch the full episode, visit BBC iPlayer ¦ The Chronicles of Erne.

Cattle Stock Pen and Highland cattle for habitat management – November 2019

Highland cattle are used throughout the year on the Reserve to manage the grasslands supporting breeding waders. They are a hardy breed which can be used to graze over the winter months when continental breeds have moved into winter housing. They ensure the grassland is in optimal condition for nesting waders by creating a mosaic of sward heights and open areas. See picture below.

A cattle stock pen was also installed on Trasna Island in 2019 to facilitate safe handling of livestock which are being used to manage the newly re-created grassland on the island for the benefit of breeding waders and other grassland specialists.


Trasna Island’s Natural Heritage Talk – November 2019

On Thursday 14th November RSPB NI in partnership with LELP hosted an evening of the history of Lough Erne’s Trasna Island and the “Queen of Trasna” who lived there centuries ago.

Members of the public had the opportunity to learn about RSPB NI’s Islands Restoration Project which is focusing on conservation work to restore the natural heritage of Trasna island by recreating open wet grassland conditions to support the recovery of species like curlews and lapwings, once common in Fermanagh but now facing the same plight as the now extinct corncrake.

This free talk took place in the Exhibition Hall in the Waterways Ireland Building, 2 Sligo Road, Enniskillen.

Joe Magee Livestock Cot purchased through CABB Project – September 2019

Joe Magee Livestock Cot purchased through CABB Project; Used to move machinery, equipment, livestock and staff to facilitate LELP project works on Trasna and White South 2020. The cot was designed and built by Mainstay Marine as a much-needed upgrade to the old cot which was built in 1993.

Farming Life Press Release:

The cot will enable RSPB NI to manage the islands for endangered wildlife, including curlews and other breeding wading birds.

The new cot was acquired through the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) project, which receives financial support from the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). CABB is improving the habitat for breeding wading birds at several sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and also blanket bog habitat in NI, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

The vessel has been named the ‘Joe Magee’ after a pioneering former RSPB Fermanagh warden. Joe was warden between 1971 and 1998 and was one of the first people to notice the alarming declines in breeding wading birds in Fermanagh.

BBC NI ‘Home Ground’ Mums on the Moo-ve – Summer 2019

The first episode of Home Ground who visited Hare Island on our Lower Lough Erne islands reserve in summer 2019. They are looking at how conservation grazing is an important part of habitat management on RSPB NI’s Lower Lough Erne Islands reserve and witnessing a cot transport of expectant heifers from Hare Island back to shore. Cot captain and assistant warden Fionnbarr Cross will be interviewed alongside grazier Mark Thompson with Andrew Gallagher and Tom Ervine working hard in the background.

Check out the footage in the clip below.

Photographed from left to right are: Tom Irvine, Andrew Gallagher, Fionnbar Cross, Ruth Sanderson and Mark Thompson and his son.