Page last updated at 08:08 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 09:08 UK

Prisoners do bit for jail birds

Lapwings nest in the prison grounds

Northern Ireland's largest prison is at the heart of bird conservation projects being carried out by the RSPB.

Inside Maghaberry's workshops prisoners have been making dozens of nest boxes.

Outside, the prison grounds are an important summer destination for lapwings migrating from northern and eastern Europe.

The prison's proximity to the breeding areas of Lough Neagh and Portmore Lough RSPB reserve makes it an essential link in a chain of bird recovery programmes.

RSPB Warden John Scovell said the RSPB had struck up a relationship with the prison about two years ago when its warden told them they had lapwings nesting on the grounds.

"We had done some publicity work on lapwings and the warden was reading the paper," Mr Scovell said.

"He saw a picture of the birds and was astonished to learn that they were rare and under severe threat.

Prisoners have been buidling nest boxes

"He called us up to let us know that the birds were breeding on prison grounds. Imagine our amazement when we found that Maghaberry had 20 pairs."

Portmore Reserve is also home to hundreds of sparrows, drawn by the rich pickings of its hay meadows and the numerous nest boxes, built by the prisoners to Mr Scovell's design.

He said the quality of the boxes was very high - able to withstand a real battering from the weather.

Over the next three months, Portmore Reserve will be monitoring lapwing breeding success at the prison, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

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