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How Northern Ireland's endangered birds are getting the space to thrive

Many of Northern Ireland's bird species are heading for the brink – but the RSPB is celebrating after a bumper summer delivered a hugely successful breeding season.

Numbers of breeding common terns rocketed by 45% on its Northern Ireland reserves in just one year, while the threatened lapwing is up 38%.

Curlew and redshank, which are included on the 'red list' of species of conservation concern, rose by 18% and 22% respectively, while black-headed gulls are up 29%. Breeding pairs of amber-listed snipe are up 36% since summer 2012.

However, RSPB NI director Dr James Robinson stressed these huge gains were seen on RSPB reserves and land managed for wildlife by 300 farmers who were taking part in the EU-funded Halting Environmental Loss Project (HELP) in Glenwherry, Lough Beg and Lough Foyle – outside these areas, the picture may well be less than rosy.

The breeding successes come against a grim backdrop of sharp wildlife declines over recent decades. This year's State of Nature report revealed that 60% of UK species are showing long-term declines and one in 10 is on the brink of local extinction.

This summer's bonanza shows what can be done when the right land management practices are put in place to halt the loss of habitat that is causing many of these declines, Dr Robinson said.

"If you get the right things in place, you can make a difference for nature and conservation," he said.

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"In Portmore Lough this year there were tens of pairs of breeding lapwing. I remember when I first came to Northern Ireland there were no lapwing on that site. You struggled to find an Irish hare and now it's teeming with wildlife.

"It shows that we are really starting to see some hope."

This summer, 21 lapwings bred on the grassland between the wall and perimeter fence at Maghaberry Prison – now designated an Area of Outstanding Scientific Interest for its bird population. They produced an incredible 61 fledglings, making it one of the most productive sites in the UK.

Meanwhile, 426 pairs of breeding waders (curlew, snipe, redshank and lapwing) were counted on farmland managed under the HELP scheme – a staggering 700% increase in numbers since the project began in 2011.

RSPB reserves also supported 357 pairs of breeding waders, with more than half of them thriving on islands in Lower Lough Erne alone.

Elsewhere, other species also reaped the benefits of the RSPB's work – the rare Irish lady's tresses orchid came into bloom in late July at Lough Beg and 195 spikes were counted in the following weeks.

Dr Robinson said: "Nature is in serious trouble in Northern Ireland and it's essential people work together to give nature a home. I am proud and delighted that the RSPB is playing its part in helping threatened wildlife and I want to thank NIEA and our other partners for their support and effort.

"There's so much more to do, but the success we are creating is a shining beacon of hope for nature in Northern Ireland."

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