Mary Col­well wanted to do

TV pro­ducer

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Curlews - WORDS: MARY COL­WELL

MARTIN LUTHER KING once wisely said, “We must ac­cept fi­nite dis­ap­point­ment, but never lose in­fi­nite hope”. That seems a sen­si­ble mantra for con­ser­va­tion­ists. The fig­ures show­ing the de­cline of Curlews are in­deed dis­ap­point­ing, to put it mildly. In the west of the British Isles, they are in dire straits. There has been a 97% crash in num­bers in Ire­land and 80% in Wales. County Sligo, the land where Wil­liam But­ler Yeats was in­spired by the heart-rend­ing call of a Curlew to write “He Re­proves the Curlew” has not one breed­ing pair. Things in Eng­land are a lit­tle bet­ter, but not great, apart from a few ar­eas in the north. The de­cline is so rapid they have been red-listed and be­come a species of con­ser­va­tion con­cern in the UK. Who would have thought it? Des­mond Nether­sole Thomp­son, the wader guru and au­thor of Waders – Their Haunts and Watches, pub­lished in 1986, de­scribed watch­ing them in Sur­rey, “bub­bling and joy-flight­ing over the mires.” He would have a dif­fi­cult time re­peat­ing that to­day. The only place they are found in the county of Sur­rey now is in Nat­u­ral Eng­land’s Thurs­ley Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, and there are only two pairs left. He even records in his child­hood that, “a few pairs of Curlews al­ways nested within 25 miles of my home in Chiswick.” Not any more. Well, we are where we are, but I do be­lieve it can get bet­ter. We may not get back to the days of com­muter-belt Curlews, but we can sta­bilise or even re­verse the down­ward trend with po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic will and tar­geted man­age­ment. Af­ter all, why would I walk 500 miles across the heart of the British Isles if I thought it was a lost cause? As a pro­ducer of wildlife pro­grammes, most re­cently on Ra­dio 4, I have tried to bring their plight to a wider au­di­ence, high­light­ing this is­sue in se­ries like Sav­ing Species and Shared Planet. But talk­ing and in­ter­view­ing only goes so far; im­por­tant as it is to use the me­dia to raise aware­ness. It is easy to be lulled into think­ing you’ve done your bit by mak­ing a pro­gramme, but it is rare for ra­dio or TV to re­ally hit home and pro­duce change. So, in De­cem­ber 2015, I looked to the year ahead and de­cided it was time to act. Buried in the shoe cup­board was a pair of good cross-train­ers that my son had grown out of far too quickly. I dusted them off, fired up Google Maps and looked for Curlew coun­try. I wanted to find places where Curlews are still do­ing well, and go to the ar­eas where they are just a mem­ory, thank­fully still a liv­ing one. I also wanted to meet peo­ple who have been in­spired by these lovely crea­tures to cre­ate beauty in what­ever medium. A line from Sligo to the Wash, with a few wig­gles, just about does it. This leaves out the all-im­por­tant Scot­land how­ever, but Mary Col­well is walk­ing 500 miles to raise funds and aware­ness for the Curlew


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