A rare glance of a lapwing at Maghaberry Prison
IT WOULDN'T come as any surprise to hear steps are being taken to stop jailbirds fleeing Maghaberry. But on this occasion it's not the prisoners who are being prevented from early release.
For a piece of grassland beside the local prison has been designated as a Area Special Scientific Interest ASSI to help protect the Lapwing which have set up home there.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood acted to protect the popular but increasingly scarce farmland bird.
An ASSI is used by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in recognition of a site's conservation value and the designation at Maghaberry Prison indicates the importance of the grasslands located within the prison which support one of Northern Ireland's most important populations of breeding Lapwing.
This species has declined markedly in recent years but Maghaberry continues to act as home to around 30 pairs making this somewhat unusual site nationally important.
The Minister said: "Lapwings thrive at Maghaberry because of the presence of unimproved species-rich grassland within the prison perimeter. This grassland has not been influenced by reseeding, fertilizer or drainage and is actively managed for the benefit of these popular birds. The rich sward provides both suitable nest sites and abundant insect prey for chicks. The perimeter fence also excludes mammal predators.
"We look forward to working positively with the Department of Justice, staff at HMP Maghaberry and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to maintain and enhance this important site."
Although relatively common in winter when the population in Northern Ireland is supplemented by birds migrating from their breeding grounds elsewhere, the breeding Lapwing population here has declined dramatically over the past 40 years. The Northern Ireland breeding population was estimated at about 1,700 pairs in 1999 but now probably numbers just a few hundred pairs.