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.

Ffionnbarr Cross – Assistant Warden
RSPB Lower Lough Erne