Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 07:18 UK

Birds encouraged to fly home to Rathlin Island

By Natalie Lindo
BBC News

Rathlin Island
The RSPB hopes the land will be a nesting area for the birds

Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast, is a favourite for visitors and tourists but now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds hopes the purchase of land will encourage two types of special visitors to return.

Both the chough and the corncrake were once familiar to farmlands, but not so long ago both were locally extinct.

Fifty-two hectares of the island were acquired by the RSPB as part of its drive to safeguard threatened birds such as lapwings, choughs and corncrakes.

Some of this land has been opened up to the public as part of the Roonivoolin Trail, a four-mile walk on the south of Rathlin Island.

Over the past 40 years, changes to farming practices resulted in drastic declines of these birds.

Lapwing numbers declined by more than 60%, corncrakes virtually disappeared and only one pair of choughs was left.

The chough were extinct from Northern Ireland for ten years

Chough were extinct in Northern Ireland for nearly 10 years and bred again on Rathlin Island in 2008 after a 19-year gap.

With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the land was bought to encourage the birds to nest in the area.

RSPB NI director Aidan Lonergan described it as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity".

"Grants and the generous support of RSPB members have enabled us to secure land on which some of our most endangered wildlife depends," he said.

"We hope that this will mark a new chapter in the recovery of key species and they will go on to a stronger, brighter future."

The chough last nested in Rathlin in 1990, but since 2002 it has made a reappearance and has been nesting on the north Antrim coast.

Spot the chough... two of the birds were spotted on the Roonivoolin trial

It is hoped the chough, lapwing, corncrake and, as well as the Irish hare, will benefit from the Roonivoolin land purchase.

In attempt to make the land, and in turn sighting of the birds more accessible the RSPB created a walking trial through the reserve which was officially opened on Monday.

The walking trail is in the southeast of the island, away from the popular Seabird centre in the west of Rathlin which features birds such as puffins, guillemots and razorbills.

The Roonivoolin trail is a gentle walk of about four miles of coastal grassland habitat.

Its route takes you out to the cliffs for a breathtaking view of the north coast from Fair Head to Sheep Island.

The RSPB say they are confident that the targeted species will respond and re-establish on the island.

Land along the reserve has already fenced off to ensure appropriate grazing levels by sheep and cows for the benefit of chough as well as access for visitors.

With the conservation efforts on Rathlin it is hoped the acrobatic flight of the chough and the rasping call of the corncrake will become a less rare sight.

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