Carrickfergus woman Annette Kelly is to give up her annual leave to try to save hundreds of migratory birds.
The type of birds which are common in our gardens and landscape make an amazing journey across thousands of miles each winter, returning again in the summer.
But the hazardous journey is made all the more deadly for millions of birds because of poachers along the migratory routes.
The local woman is passionate about nature and wildlife and will be travelling to northern Italy and France to try and thwart the efforts of poachers, who set traps for migratory birds such as Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Skylarks and Red Wings.
The poachers set traps, nets and lures, with approximately 150 to 200 million birds ending up in cooking pots, cages or trophy collections each year.
“Migratory birds leave our gardens for African quarters in winter and cover thousands of miles in their flights. But sadly, many never make it there and back safely,” says Annette.
Annette will be travelling with three friends from different parts of the UK and the ‘road trip’ into Europe will be signalled by their arrival in a 1969 Fiat 500.
The Mission 500 initiative aims to save the lives of 500 birds and has the support of several wildlife celebrities.
Annette lived in Tuscany for several years, working in a variety of roles including as an English teacher and a landscape gardener, before coming back to Northern Ireland.
She explained that Mission 500 was about raising awareness, with Italians, French and British people, of bird poaching and hunting methods in Europe.
“We will be visiting poaching hot spots in Northern Italy doing both covert and overt work, working with Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and also Italian organisations. The species that are targeted, the numbers killed and the methods used are unfathomable,” she said.
“In Northern France we will be visiting two areas, one of which is where champagne is produced. Both areas use barbaric trapping methods which are actually legal in France. Here we will be collecting valuable evidence to pass on to CABS for them to use for pressuring policy makers.”
She and her colleagues will be trained in anti-poaching techniques including recognising trap nets and devices. They will be sleeping rough in mountainous areas and the aim is to provide evidence against poachers and help change the law,”
Annette is also an artist and wildlife is among her favoured subjects.
She says she is appalled at the fate of thousands of birds which leave to migrate each year.
“We love to see these birds in our gardens, but the sad reality is that fewer of them return each year because of the hazards placed in their way by the poachers,” she added.
With her quota of camping gear, camouflage clothes and hiking boots, Annette says it will be an arduous trip to Europe but she is looking forward to the challenges and the opportunities to make an impact against the annual migratory poaching.