WHERE TO WATCH?
drainage, different grazing patterns and planting of forests for timber, the landscape now disadvantages the Curlew. Curlews continue to do well in some places, including some areas managed for grouse shooting. Here, Curlews benefit from some of the management undertaken to boost grouse numbers, especially the legal control of predators such as Foxes and crows which are known to prey on their eggs. However, the burning of moorland on deep peat soils to increase grouse populations is having a wider detrimental environmental impact on other biodiversity, carbon storage and water quality. The RSPB has begun a five-year Curlew Recovery Programme, which includes a trial management element that seeks to increase Curlew across six different sites. The Curlew Trial Management Project (TMP) is undertaking vital research to test whether a combination of predator control and habitat management can successfully increase numbers of Curlew on their breeding grounds. If this can be proven, a funding package for landowners to manage suitable habitats for Curlews would be developed. At each of the six areas, the RSPB is monitoring two sites each – one is the ‘trial’ site, where predator control and targeted habitat management will take place, and the other is the ‘control’, where land management will continue as before, to act as a vital comparison with the trial site.
Better habitat mix to help the Curlew
Through the introduction of selective vegetation cutting and livestock grazing, the TMP will seek to create a better habitat mix that includes suitable areas for nesting and feeding Curlew. Over the project’s lifetime, RSPB staff will be present at each area from late March to early September. They’ll monitor the birds, predators and vegetation across each site, recording changes from year to year, and assess how birds are responding to the management put in place. It’s likely that a different combination of management will work in different areas. There will be some places where overgrazing has degraded the mix of vegetation on the ground, and others where inappropriate land management is benefiting the numbers of predators and these predators are taking high numbers of eggs and chicks. Working with landowners is absolutely vital, giving the Curlew as much usable land as possible. The plight of the Curlew offers a real opportunity for conservationists and landowners to work together to secure a better future for this fantastic bird, and some of the wild places these birds are to be found. What is certain is that no one organisation or landowner can tackle the pressing priority to reverse the decline of the Curlew on their own. It must include working with people who own and manage the vast swathes of land on which Curlews are still successfully breeding. Conservationists attempting to bring back a bird from the brink also need to consider all the tools available to them, such as changes in land management including drainage and grazing, and, as a last resort, reducing the impact of predation on breeding Curlew. A final point on considering conservation priorities – when we look at which threatened species to channel resources into saving, one criteria often discussed is ‘uniqueness’. If we lost this bird for good, would this mean there was nothing else like it on Earth? The answer could, in the not too distant future, be yes. Only one of the world’s eight species of curlew is considered to have a stable population. Two are believed to be extinct. Together we need to find ways to make sure a similar fate does not await our Curlew. Curlews can be seen around the UK coastline, particularly at Morecambe Bay, the Solway Firth, the Wash, and the Dee, Severn, Humber and Thames estuaries. Greatest breeding numbers are found in North Wales, the Pennines, the southern uplands and east Highlands of Scotland and the Northern Isles.