Curlews fledge in Co Antrim for the first time in 20 years

Northern Ireland has lost more than 80 per cent of the curlew population since 1987

FOR the first time in 20 years, curlew chicks have fledged at a Co Antrim farm.

Last year a pair of curlews attempted to breed at Greenmount Hill Farm in Glenwherry for the first time since 2005 - only to fail to hatch young.

But this summer two pairs arrived back at the farm and one of the pairs has successfully fledged three young.

RSPB NI's conservation advisor Neal Warnock said these are the first curlews known to have fledged from the site since the 1990s and provides a boost to their dwindling numbers.

Northern Ireland has lost more than 80 per cent of the curlew population since 1987 and numbers have almost halved across the UK over the past two decades.

Since 2009, RSPB NI, the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust (IGCT), the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) have been working with others on the Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Project (GHRP).

The integrated management approach is a bid to "give nature a home in Glenwherry".

"When news broke that one of the pairs had hatched three young, their progress became the talk of the community," Mr Warnock said.

"It was a very long six-week wait watching them grow until they finally stretched their wings and departed.

"Curlews only rarely fledge three young, so this was terrific news for all involved in the project and should help see them become established on the farm."

Graeme Campbell of CAFRE said work to attract breeding waders over the last six years has also resulted in increasing numbers of snipe breeding on the farm.

Among the measures brought in by GHRP have been rush cutting and tree removal, as well as predator control.

Sites across the UK are amongst the most important in the world for breeding European curlews, hosting around a quarter of the global breeding population.

Their numbers have declined due to factors including a loss of suitable habitat and increased predation.

The Antrim Hills and County Fermanagh are the last remaining hotspots for curlews in Northern Ireland.

In the wider Glenwherry area, there are approximately 45 breeding pairs recorded annually.

The area is also home to lapwings and snipe.

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