Hey everyone, as some of you may know, I attended the launch of Northern Ireland Environment Week (Farming and Climate Change is the theme – very poignant given that most of our land is farmed) and the ‘Sate of Nature 2016’ report on Monday night! I really wanted to write my account as soon as possible, but I was home so late that night and the following evening I had homework to catch up on! Better late than never!

Firstly, huge thanks to Megan, for giving me the opportunity to represent A Focus On Nature and to Amy at RSPB NI for organising me to attend. I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for, but my instinct told me that it would be good to have a young person there. To perhaps show some people that we care. I was there for every child who loves nature and desires to protect it.
There have been launches of the various reports in England, Scotland and Wales; Northern Ireland was the last report to be unveiled. I wrote about The State of Nature Report for the rest of the UK, you can find that here. I was incredibly excited and very nervous as not only do I find social interactions very difficult, there would be quite a few important people there! The day dawned though and I was raring to go, all my class were excited for me too. My dad accompanied me to The Long Gallery ‘Stormont’ in Belfast (80 miles away for us) and we were almost late because of the bad rush-hour traffic, but we made it! Stormont is where the Northern Ireland Assembly, our devolved government sit and as I entered the humongous hall, my mind wandered to the history of the place; it’s a very tumultuous one! I was pretty awed by it all.

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Stormont House -(picture from Wikipedia)

As we entered the Long Gallery, we weren’t really sure what to do, but Anne-Marie from RSPB NI saw us, welcomed us and made us feel at ease. The speakers for the evening were Linda Dillon – Chairperson, Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; Michelle McIllveen, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and Patrick Casement, Chairperson, Northern Ireland Environment Link (check out their web-site for lots of other events for Environment Week). Linda Dillon warmly welcomed everyone and spoke of how important nature was and how we all should work together to preserve it, a great start! McIlveen spoke of her disappointment that many habitats were being destroyed but was optimistic that all was not lost. Patrick Casement was an inspiring speaker, he was brilliant, funny, engaging and he really captured my attention. The other speakers were great, but you could tell Patrick really cared. As a kid, I would have really loved to hear about their own personal connection to nature and what it meant for them, but maybe this wasn’t the night for that! I was really inspired by Patrick’s positive attitude and I know that he will work brilliantly with all our NGO’s to make sure that the findings of this report can be a stepping stone to build on for future change. I hope that our minister, who talked a lot about farming and production, also makes farming work for nature too, I think that she will, with the help of Patrick and all the NGO’s. Minister McIllveen spoke of the Yellowhammer success story in Co. Down where simple conservation measures, placed alongside intense farming, yielded a 79% increase! This is astounding and just goes to show that small measures (hedgerows, wildlife friendly margins and seed rich crops) can have significant effects! Imagine if farmers around the island adopted similar measures? Our wildlife would definitely stand a better chance of survival!

 

 

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Left to right – Shane Wolsey (British Trust for Ornithology), Clive Mellon (Chair RSPB NI Committee), Catherine Bertrand (Butterfly Conservation), Michelle McIllveen, (Minster for Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Linda Dixon (Chari Committee DAERA), Jennifer Fulton (CEO Ulster Wildlife), Pauline Campbell (Centre for Environmental Data and Recording), Patrick Casement (Chair Northern Ireland Environment Link), Dianne Ruddock (National Trust) and me!!! Such a pity Anne-Marie McDevitt from RSPB isn’t in this photograph!!

So, what did the report actually say, I hear you ask!! Well, as expected the news was mixed. The bottom line is that it’s not great, one in five species is at risk of extinction in Northern Ireland. These include the freshwater pearl mussel and the furry-claspered furrow bee. These two species were highlighted but others such as Skylarks, Barn Owl, Curlew and Red Squirrel are in serious decline too. A few years ago we visited the Ballinderry Rivers Trust summer fair, I was so excited by what they were doing there! Their work was highlighted in the report for their amazing pearl mussel re-introduction scheme. Pearl Mussels are astonishing creatures! They are invertebrates and they feed on tiny particles in fresh water rivers; their feeding keeps the water filtered and clean, they do amazing work to protect the water quality, fish and other river species. They live for a hundred years and are almost extinct. The trust released over 550 mussels adding a significant increase to the other 1,500 resident. The breeding programme will release yet more to further establish populations and a new project ‘Pearl Mussels Go Wild’ funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency will be launched soon! I digress, I know, but I love pearl mussels so much! Huge thanks to the work of Ballinderry River Trust.

Many passerines and breeding waders (especially iconic curlews) are also in decline and their future remains uncertain, the beautiful grey wagtail which I featured in my previous blog, is one such species. I would hate not to see its bobbing flash over our springs and rivers. It would be awful, to lose any of our beautiful nature! Butterflies are doing 50/50 and one of their success stories has happened right here in Fermanagh! I met Catherine Bertrand who takes the lead on Butterflies here in Northern Ireland for Butterfly Conservation, on the night and she is brilliant. I love her energy and her positivity. She has been really kind about my blog too, thanks Catherine! Catherine has a special piece in the report too on the amazing Marsh Fritillary butterfly and it’s potential for survival here in Fermanagh, they are such fascinating butterflies and their survival depends on ‘a well connected landscape’. This means that the fritillary not only needs a breeding site, but also ‘transitory satellite sites’ where they can hang out when they’re not breeding. Unimproved grassland is best for this but these important habitats are also under threat as many farmers need to make their land profitable, for survival! There is a new Northern Ireland Farming Scheme, which would really help not just butterflies but many other species too! The Treasury (think the red case) have not released any money for this scheme yet and everyone is waiting and depending on it! Farmers are losing the chance to help nature because the government have not given them the money yet! This is a pretty simplistic view, but I’m only twelve and that’s what it boils down to, for me.

So, what else is happening? Well, new protection for our coasts is on the horizon and by 2017, Northern Ireland will have five National Marine Conservation Areas, protecting sea birds and seagrass meadows. Not all networks are covered though, I think this needs to happen, so that all of our coast is protected! Bat species have increased by 132% over the last ten years and otter have increased by 14% (two surveys in 2001 and 2009). 52% of vascular (plants which have tissues for conducting water and minerals) are in decline ! Projects such as Save Our Magnificent Meadows here in Fermanagh and Don’t Mow Let It Grow (they had a great piece in the report) on The Causeway Coast are doing brilliant work to save wildflowers and in turn, pollinators such as bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and moths. Brilliant work!

I really wish that I could feature all the amazing projects that were in the report, but my attention span needs a little work, if you would like to read more, the full report can be found here It really is an interesting read! I wish there was more information on more mammal species ssuch as hedgehog and badger though and perhaps a report which is guaged at school-kids would be great too! Just my point of view though, but it would be amazing. Oh, actually, I forgot to mention A Focus On Nature’s ‘A vision for nature’ report, perhaps that can be a whole other blog!!


The work of the 53 organisations and the millions of volunteering hours monitoring species is staggering, and I for one, am incredibly grateful that there are so many individuals and groups that care! It was great to meet just a few of them at the launch. Everyone was really friendly and even though I was shy at first, I believe I made my voice heard and I hope that the people in the organisations who attended, know how much I, and many other young conservationists care about our environment. I hope they now know hard A Focus On Nature work to assist young nature lovers: making their voices heard, mentoring, assistance with college entry, helping with bursaries for binoculars etc and then guiding them as they enter the world of working for wildlife.  I hope they also know, that we couldn’t do it without their help and support! It was a privilege to be there. Oh, huge thanks to Ulster Wildlife for bringing a viewimg tank, it really relaxed me, as all nature does! Thank you to Colin from RSPB for giving me the  Grainneog (Irish for hedgehog) pin and to Kathryn for sending mum these pictures. I spoke to some really lovely people, whose name’s I have forgotten (sorry!), thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

I really hope you enjoyed reading about the State of Nature, it’s imperative that we all play a part in protecting and conserving our planet. Even small things help, all the organisations I highlighted, please take a look at their web-sites, they are really inspiring if you’re unsure of what to do. It can all seem so overwhelming and doom and gloom, but we can all make a difference, especially recording wildlife! If you haven’t done this before please visit Centre for Environment Data and Recording This work is invaluable, and also really fun too!

Thank you for reading

Dara