IRD Duhallow’s RaptorLIFE project in Newmarket is helping to create a new generation of environmentally aware citizens. RaptorLIFE is an EU funded 4.5 year project that aims to work with the local community to connect and restore habitats for Hen harrier, Merlin, Atlantic salmon and Brook lamprey (amongst other species). The project is split between actions to improve habitat quality on rivers (upper Blackwater SAC) and upland bog areas (Stack’s to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills and Mount Eagle SPA).
A major school awareness campaign aimed at 36 national and 5 post primary schools commenced in 2012, and was later increased to 43 national schools in 2015/6. As part of the campaign, the national school students or “Wildlife Detectives”, busily record and map the wildlife they find in their locality. The students in the post primary schools input this data onto the National Biodiversity website. The purpose of this initiative is to educate students on the native wildlife in their backyard, and to highlight the presence of endangered species. In addition, the students are also taught to recognise the presence of invasive species which are introduced organisms that can damage the local environment, economy, or human health. The Wildlife Detectives initiative is working in partnership with the National Biodiversity Data Centre to store and display this information on the internet for the public to utilise. Allowing the public to view the spatial database created by the students is a novel aspect of the project. This database can be accessed from the RaptorLIFE website, http://duhallowlife.com/raptor-life/.
RaptorLIFE has already had notable success in promoting science with young people. RaptorLIFE helped the students of Convent of Mercy, Kanturk School with one of their Water Explorers challenges. Water explorers is a fantastic global programme that helps raise awareness of water conservation in schools. With RaptorLIFE, the students learnt all about the importance of protecting our local rivers, and the amazing life which depends on them. These pupils went on to win the International WAF (Water Air Food) Awards. The WAF Awards were created to acknowledge and promote individuals and organisations all over the world that implement sustainable projects to secure water, clean air and food, and empower local communities. The Youth Award aims to encourage young people to help solve problems around water, air, and food. This award will be presented to the girls in Beijing later this year!
More RaptorLIFE success in motivating and nurturing a deeper interest in the environment has been with students of Colaiste Treasa in Kanturk. Transition year students Jack Murphy and Michael Sheehan worked closely with the RaptorLIFE team to develop and research a project entitled "Prey availability for Hen harriers in managed farmland". This project went on to win the BT Young Scientists' Group Winners award in 2017 and the EPA best environmental prize. The students even featured on RTE’s the Late Late Show and TG4’s An Nuacht.
Improving environmental awareness is an important component of the RaptorLIFE project. By sharing the knowledge that the physical environment is fragile and indispensable we can begin fixing the problems that threaten it.