H.E.L.P. for machair breeding waders at Sheskinmore and in Donegal
The Halting Environmental Loss Project (H.E.L.P.) was set up to share expertise and experience in conservation of farmland birds in the border counties of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Islay. Funded by INTERREG IVA under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) that is administered locally by the Special EU Programmes Body, HELP is in its final year of operation. Initially focussing on breeding Curlew, last year the remit in the border counties was extended to include machair breeding wader sites in Donegal. Sadly, these sites are experiencing severe declines. In 2011, a survey funded by National Parks and Wildlife Service of 11 sites in Donegal and Mayo indicated declines at ten sites of between 20 and 95% since 19851. Predation by mammals, mostly foxes, disturbance and lack of appropriate management are likely to be key factors.
Tackling predation of ground nesting birds is not easy, but the use of exclusion fences is proving to be a very effective way of reducing mammalian predation at some sites. These combination fences consist of horse wire and a finer mesh wire overlay as the main body of the fence; this is buried to prevent mammals digging under it; three strands of electric wire sit on top and the result is a very effective barrier to foxes, mink and other potential predators. Hazard plates are attached every 10-30m to warn members of the public that the fence is electrified during the breeding season. A recent report published by RSPB shows significantly lower predation rates for breeding waders at sites with predator fences in the UK. Increases in wader populations have also been recorded at our own reserve at Termoncarragh following the erection of a predator fence in 2011, and similarly at Inishee Island, on the Shannon Callows, where funding for a predator fence was provided by the Heritage Council and National Parks and Wildlife Service.
With these encouraging results in mind, three similar fences have been erected in the last six months as part of the HELP project at machair wader sites in Donegal, including Magheragallon in Gweedore and Rinmore on the Fanad peninsula. We will also be doing some additional habitat work at sheskinmore for breeding waders thanks to a grant from Donegal County Council as part of the Local Agenda 21 Environment Partnership Fund.
Together these three sites supported about 20 pairs of Lapwing last year and smaller numbers of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Snipe. If nest survival is similar to the levels observed at other sites with predator fences, we would hope to see an increase in breeding pairs at these sites from this year forward; this would be in direct contrast to the general trend of decline and even total loss of waders at many machair sites on the west and north coasts. We hope that this will be one of the many beneficial legacies of the HELP project.
Picture Below of a Fox captured on a motion activated camera, running along outside of the predator fence at Sheskinmore
The fence at sheskinmore is now been operational for the 2014 breeding wader season and in its first year has seen an increase in productivity on 2013. The fence was constructed towards the end of 2013 following a constructive design and location period. See below some of the pictures of the fence as it was being constructed.
Now that the fence has been installed for a year it has blended into the surrounding environment an will continue to offer a mammalian predator free breeding area for the waders at Sheskinmore.