RSPB NI has kick-started a project that aims to reverse declining nature on the Causeway Coast.
Farmers in the region can now gain access to one-to-one advice and support to help make space for nature on their working farmland.
This project comes as part of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA).
EFS gives farmers financial incentives to implement measures on their land for wildlife conservation.
Within the scheme, farmers can also apply for a range of land improvement, including new fences, control of bracken, rushes, or scrubs, to help deliver their plan.
RSPB NI currently works with over 400 farmers in Northern Ireland. This new group project called the Causeway Coast Farmland Bird Initiative aims to advise and support farmers from Portballintrae to Torr Head, including Rathlin Island, to enter EFS and deliver on their agreement, helping to get the best results for farm and nature.
Claire Barnett, East Area Manager for RSPB NI, said: “The Causeway Coast is made up of a unique mosaic of habitats such as maritime cliff, lowland meadows, and heathland.
“It is an important area for many farmland bird species which are reliant on this landscape for their survival.
“Agri-environment schemes are a key mechanism in delivering for the iconic farmland birds found breeding here.
“If the correct mix of Environmental Farming Scheme options are targeted to the right places, coupled with dedicated advice, species like the chough and corncrake can make a comeback for the benefits of the wider community.
“This is a welcome development for the Causeway Coast area as this kind of one-to-one support for farmers to access the Environmental Farming Scheme has not been available here before.
“By providing this group project we hope that farmers of all sizes and scales across the area will enter the scheme and help to deliver for key species of farmland birds, while protecting important farmland habitats.”
The Causeway Coast Farmland Bird Initiative encourages farmers to apply to enter the Environmental Farming Scheme at both the Wider and Higher levels, and with support from RSPB NI’s experienced farmland advisors, gain access to demonstrations, site visits, and a host of resources to better understand the scheme’s implementation and benefits.
The group also allows farmers to work collectively in a co-ordinated landscape scale approach to halt and reverse the decline of some of Northern Ireland’s most iconic farmland birds in coastal areas.
Claire continued: “Birds are a good indicator of the health of the environment.
“The decline of our farmland birds is alarming but by working together we can reverse this trend.
“The three main needs of farmland birds are a safe place to nest, food in spring and summer for their growing chicks, and food and shelter over the winter.
“These needs can be addressed through a range of grazing regime and EFS options such as the provision of winter feed crop for wild birds, retention of winter stubble, creation of arable margins and creation of pollinator margins.
“It is quite remarkable how quickly some bird species can rally when you implement these nature-friendly farming options.
“We think it is vital that farmers receive financial compensation for introducing these conservation measures, it is good for business and good for wildlife.
“Our ability to farm together with nature is key to a sustainable future for agriculture and nature in Northern Ireland.”
n If your farm is in the Environmental Farming Scheme already and you wish to be part of the group project, or if you are interested in entering your farm in the future and would like some more information, please contact RSPB NI Conservation Officer for the Causeway Coast, Anne Guichard, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0793 5014968.
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