Grasping the nettle to help Rathlin corncrakes

ON a bright beautiful Friday the 13th in January, the RSPB organised a party of volunteers to gather up nettle roots in the Glens, with the aim of restoring habitat for corncrakes on Rathlin Island.

The RSPB will be organising work parties until mid-March and are looking for volunteers and businesses interested in coming along for the day to help out. Another was due to have been held on Friday 27th January.

“It is a good day’s craic and something different, plus it’s doing something positive for our local wildlife, whilst getting outdoors and keeping active and fit.” said Patsy Harbinson of the RSPB.

The corncrake was once found throughout the UK and Ireland but is now mostly restricted to northern and western parts of Scotland and Ireland.

The wildlife conservation charity is hoping that by providing suitable habitat, birds will move out to breed on Rathlin Island as well.

“The corncrakes are very secretive birds and like hiding and calling from cover,” said Patsy Harbinson.

“Nettles grow early in the year and therefore provide the perfect habitat for these birds. Rathlin was one of the last places in Northern Ireland where they bred. So, the RSPB is looking to create the best possible habitat there – which consists of gathering nettles on the mainland and replanting them on Rathlin.”

The volunteers who were involved in the work party had a variety of long-standing interest in the organisation and its work or were new to the charities work but keen to gain conservation experience.

“When I was a student, I used to hear to the corncrake calling in the fields on the edge of Belfast,” said volunteer, Ray Bennett. “It used to keep me awake all night. It is difficult to believe that over the course of a generation they have become so exceedingly rare.

“Hopefully work like this will ensure that a future generation will be kept awake by the call of the corncrake once.”

For more information on volunteering for this work, call the RSPB on 02890491547 or email

* The corncrake is a summer migrant bird that comes from Africa to breed in northern Europe. Over the last twenty years their numbers have fallen drastically due to the intensification of agriculture, particularly the used to silage machines.

However, through efforts of conservation charities and the co-operation of farmers, the bird is making a comeback in Scotland and other parts of the UK.