Blue Circle Island may be raised by over a meter to save birds

Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough - a grey low lying island with birds circling
-Credit: (Image: RSPB)

Plans have been submitted to raise an island on Larne Lough by 1.6 meters to help save local wildlife from rising sea levels.

The RSPB has submitted a planning application to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to raise a section of Blue Circle Island. In a supporting statement to council planners, the RSPB NI says that it is proposing to use aggregate to raise part of the surface of Blue Circle island to reach a height of 1.6 metres.

The statement explained that the purpose of the proposal is to prevent sea water from flooding nests during the breeding season. Blue Circle Island lies 500m offshore at Magheramorne on the southern shore of the lough. Artificially created by the Blue Circle Cement company in 1990 through deposits from Magheramorne Quarry, it is saucer-shaped with a ring of higher ground around the perimeter.

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It was designed specifically to become a sea bird colony and along with neighbouring Swan Island, it has become an important breeding area for sea birds, most notably gulls and terns, the report said.

Since the completion of renovation works in 2020, RSPB NI says that it has “become apparent that seawater continues to inundate a lower-lying area in the western part of the island during periods of high tides when sea water levels rise above 1.35m”.

It was noted: “Repairs have improved the integrity of the site in part for ground nesting sea birds and improved the breeding conditions for sea birds. Continued percolation in this lower-lying western portion of the island during the spring and summer months means that nests will be lost and breeding will fail in this lower-lying area.

“This is particularly likely for the Sandwich Tern and Mediterranean and Black headed Gull as they are at the highest risk of inundation as they are the main sea bird species nesting on this lower-lying area of the island interior.

“The loss of these birds may also affect the common and Roseate Tern populations as these smaller terns often rely on the presence of the larger birds as protection from predation.”

The report indicated that “without intervention, the situation will deteriorate further”.

It continued: “It is thought that this positive site management (in combination with the earlier site works) for Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern and Mediterranean Gull will result in a population increase of these rare and vulnerable species. The northern part of the island has been chosen because this is the preferred area used by breeding sea birds historically. The existing shape of the mounds (peaks and troughs) make it difficult for these sea birds to make their nests at this particular location.

“The direct result of the works will provide additional nesting areas for Sandwich Tern and Mediterranean and Black-headed Gull which are free from risk of percolation through the sea wall and ultimately nest flooding in the northern portion of the island, while providing additional nesting opportunities on the higher island rim for those sea birds which prefer to nest in locations with open vistas.

“Indirect benefits will also be gained for the Common and Roseate Tern populations as these smaller terns often rely on the presence of the larger birds as protection from predation.”

RSPB NI has indicated that to avoid any impact on the breeding season, works would not commence before September with completion scheduled by Christmas 2024.

Commenting on the planning application, a spokesperson for RSPB NI said: “Blue Circle Island is an important area for breeding sea birds. While the island benefited from restoration works a few years ago, there remains an issue with seawater flooding on its lowest-lying parts.

“Without intervention to raise the lower lying parts of the island as proposed in the planning application, the situation will deteriorate further and put at risk the conservation value of the island. Given the importance of Blue Circle Island for breeding sea birds, RSPB NI is hopeful that the application will be considered positively by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.”

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