Northern Ireland

Lapwings make Maghaberry Prison home

A few dozen lapwings have been given the ultimate protection - jail.

The birds have made the perimeter grounds between the inner and outer fences of Maghaberry Prison in County Antrim their own.

It has now been declared an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) to protect the declining species.

About 30 breeding pairs of lapwings moved in a few years ago and started raising young with considerable success.

The birds also delighted the other involuntary inmates with their distinctive "pee-wit" calls and spectacular aerial displays.

But the real reason the lapwings ended up in prison is the ground. It is flat with short grass, rich with other plant species and lots of insects for the growing chicks.

Lapwings nest on the ground and the open flat spaces allow them to spot would-be predators. The land has never been re-seeded, fertilised or treated with chemicals.

It is also free from human disturbance - for obvious reasons, just the way the birds like it.

There used to be several thousand lapwings in Northern Ireland but changing agricultural practices and human disturbance has reduced the numbers to just a few hundred.

This new ASSI will give the struggling species a unique sanctuary and unlike the rest of the inmates, these jail birds can come and go at will.