A brand new cot – a vessel for transporting livestock and machinery on and off the islands of Lower Lough Erne – has been launched by conservation charity RSPB NI, thanks to funding from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme.
The cot will enable RSPB NI to manage the islands for endangered wildlife, including curlews and other breeding wading birds.
The new cot was acquired through the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) project, which receives financial support from the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). CABB is improving the habitat for breeding wading birds at several sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and also blanket bog habitat in NI, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
The vessel has been named the ‘Joe Magee’ after a pioneering former RSPB Fermanagh warden. Joe was warden between 1971 and 1998 and was one of the first people to notice the alarming declines in breeding wading birds in Fermanagh.
The county is home to 10% of the curlew population on the island of Ireland, with 39 pairs on the RSPB NI Fermanagh reserve in 2019. But curlews are in a perilous state, as numbers in Northern Ireland have declined by 89% since 1987.
RSPB NI has operated a cot to transport livestock between islands on Lower Lough Erne since 1991. The original was designed by Joe Magee but needed to be replaced due to wear and tear. When on the islands, the grazing cattle and sheep create a suitable structure of grass and vegetation to form an ideal habitat for breeding wading birds including curlews, lapwings, redshanks and snipe to nest and raise young.
Brad Robson, RSPB NI area manager, who succeeded Joe in Fermanagh in 1998, said: “The cot is used throughout the year. We move about 150 cattle and 60 sheep back and forth to our managed islands, as well as livestock to other privately-owned islands. In its first voyages, the new vessel will be used to bring livestock off for the winter.
“We were delighted to be able to name it after Joe and it’s vital that we continue our work to provide ideal habitats for the curlews and other waders and wildlife species in Lower Lough Erne. We are grateful to the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme for funding this cot as part of CABB. A further aspect of the CABB project is to raise awareness in the community of the environmental, cultural and historical importance of these wetland habitats.”
Joe added: “We originally used a wooden cot, which a farmer let us use. Then we built our own, although at first it had no engine on it and we had to tow it using another boat. So eventually we got an engine and that made life easier!
“I knew that across the island of Ireland curlew numbers were dropping, so it’s important that work is still being done to look after them.”
Underlining the importance of this part of the project, Gina McIntyre, CEO of the SEUPB, said: “The curlew is one of a number of endangered priority species identified in the environmental protection measures within the EU INTERREG Programme. This new cot is a fantastic example of the tangible impact that EU INTERREG funding is having in safeguarding the natural environment and protecting endangered species, on a cross-border basis. Due to this intervention by the CABB project, curlews will have a much better future. I also want to commend Joe for his commitment to conservation.”
The 15-metre custom-made cot weighs 14 tonnes and was built by Wales-based marine engineers and workboat builders Mainstay Marine Solutions.