Newsletter No. 5, 19 April 2018
World Curlew Day number
Introduction (from Mike Smart)
The present number covers the prospects for the coming breeding season in lowland England, but also World Curlew Day, the Welsh Curlew Conference and the Dartmoor Upland Wader Summit; Mary Colwell’s much-awaited book “Curlew Moon” appears in the week of World Curlew Day.
NB: Mary to be interviewed on BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme at 08.20 on Saturday 21 April.
And a hugely exciting development: The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is planning a major new initiative on Curlews; the details are in development, and fundraising is in the early stages. Better still, it will be in partnership with other organisations, will likely focus largely on lowland Curlews, and will be broad in scope, covering on-the-ground conservation, public engagement, science and policy.
The website at www.curlewcall.org will carry details of any developments in all these issues. The title and strapline of the website have changed slightly: it is now entitled ‘Call of the Curlew – Conserving breeding Curlews in southern and lowland Britain’, to emphasize the site’s concern for lowland breeding Curlews, and to make it available to all those working on Curlews in Ireland and southern UK.
World Curlew Day
April 21 is designated World Curlew Day, a chance for Curlews worldwide to be celebrated and for awareness to be raised about the perils they face. Out of the eight species of Curlew on earth, two are presumed extinct, with no confirmed sightings for decades, and three species, the Bristle-thighed, the Far Eastern and the Eurasian Curlew, are on the dreaded IUCN Red List, indicating extinction is likely. Not a list any creature of earth wants to be on. They all broadly face the same threats: habitat loss, high levels of predation, and disturbance. Some are still hunted. World Curlew Day is there to help them in whatever way is suitable for a particular region.
April 21 is chosen for a few Curlew-related reasons. Firstly, it is the average first laying date for Curlew in Europe, it is also a good time to hear them bubbling and calling on their breeding grounds and it is the feast day of the world’s first Curlew conservationist, the venerable St Beuno (pronounced Bayno). Beuno was a Welsh abbot in the 6th Century who lived in the far west of Wales on the Lleyn Peninsula. Legend has it he was sailing to Anglesey to preach to the heathens of that wild island and accidently dropped his book of sermons into the sea. He was distraught until a Curlew flew over, picked up the book and took it to the shore to dry. The old saint was so pleased he blessed the Curlew and said Curlews must be protected for all time, and that their nests should be hard to find – which is indeed true. It would be good if St Beuno would refresh his blessing in the 21st Century when so many of his beloved new-moon birds are now in danger.
World Curlew Day is a grassroots initiative, supported by the major conservation organisations who are promoting it through their own networks. Please do what you can on April 21 – organise a Curlew walk, Curlew art or poetry event, a Curlew coffee morning to raise funds for local projects – whatever you can to help. Mary Colwell
Welsh Curlew Conference
Following the meeting on Irish Curlews in Higginstown in November 2016, and the Slimbridge workshop in February 2017 (papers from both available on the ‘Call of the Curlew’ website www.curlewcall.org), it was natural for attention to turn to Curlews in Wales; a Conference was therefore organised on 24 January 2018 at the Royal Agricultural Showground Builth Wells by Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Ornithological Society, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and RSPB Cymru under the title ’Status and Future of Curlew in Wales’. The organisers drew on the experience of previous meetings, where the pressing need to involve farmers, land-owners and other stake-holders who own, manage and appreciate Curlew breeding habitat had been emphasized. The impressive gathering of 110 participants therefore included not only bird-watchers, scientific ornithologists and conservation organizations, but a broad selection of farmers, farming bodies, advisers on land management and game-keepers.
The tone was set by the first speaker, TV presenter Iolo Williams, who spoke of how he had been aware since boyhood of Curlew as a common upland and farmland bird, not a normal species but an iconic bird, part of the history, language and culture of Wales. The meeting continued with an outline of the national picture in Wales by Patrick Lindley of Natural Resources Wales, and by a presentation of the sheep farmer’s perspective by Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association, who noted as a major problem the decline in lamb consumption in favour of chicken. Then came presentations by Rachel Taylor of BTO Wales on her project to follow movements of individual tagged Curlews, by the RSPB team carrying out a large-scale trial management project in North Wales, and by Curlew Country which is carrying out a range of monitoring and community activities in the Welsh Marches and Shropshire. Then, under the heading of Curlew Conservation, several speakers spoke of methods of reversing the decline, notably predator control and the possibility of using ‘head-starting’ (incubating wild eggs and releasing the chicks) which has already been successfully used at Slimbridge for Spoon-billed Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits.
In the afternoon session, the participants gathered in groups of ten at round tables, to argue out the best ways forward. Patrick Lindley had the unenviable task of summarizing the results, which he suggested were: data monitoring in key areas; engagement of farmers and land-owners; flexible Curlew-focussed Agri-Environment Schemes; public awareness; establishment of an All-Wales Curlew Recovery Group; local approaches; and adequate funding.
There was general agreement at the end of the Conference that there had been a genuine breaking down of barriers, and that a clear way forward had been mapped out. Since January, the detailed conclusions have been circulated, and these are reproduced in full in Annexe 1 to this Newsletter. Plans are in hand for an early meeting of the All-Wales Group, with Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Ornithological Society very active in this field; the Dyfi Biosphere Group is also working on this topic, and contacts have been made with the Curlew Champion in the Welsh Assembly. Until a Welsh Curlew website is set up, the full texts of all presentations, and the complete conclusions have been posted on the ‘Call of the Curlew’ website, so that those interested can consult them.
Dartmoor Upland Wader Summit
HRH Prince of Wales convened a meeting on 23 March 2018 in the Two Bridges Hotel on Dartmoor to discuss the plight of upland waders. There were representatives from Natural England, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), RSPB, BTO, Devon Wildlife Trust, Wader Quest, Duchy of Cornwall, Game Keepers Organisation, Dartmoor National Parks Authority, independent conservationists and commentators. Although the title included all waders, the discussions were almost exclusively confined to Curlew.
The day started with a number of presentations, chaired by Teresa Dent the CEO of GWCT:
- Tom Orde Powlett on the conservation of Curlew in the Pennines.
- Amanda Perkins on Curlew recovery in the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches.
- Dr David Douglas on the RSPB Curlew Recovery Programme in the uplands.
- Dr Geoff Hilton, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, on headstarting as a possible tool to aid recovery of populations.
- Dr Andrew Hoodless, GWCT, on predator control as a tool for improving Curlew breeding success.
- Jon Avon, Field Officer for the Dartmoor wader project, on the desperate state of Dartmoor’s waders.
- Andrew Sells, CEO of Natural England – What can NE do to help?
- Kevin Cox, Chairman of the RSPB – What can the RSPB do to help?
The audience were then asked to discuss in groups a number of set questions:
- How do we more fully engage with practitioners on the ground?
- What measures do we need to make Curlew recovery work?
- Do we agree with the outcomes of the Welsh Curlew Conference?
- How can DEFRA and Natural England help?
- How do we effectively share experience and learning to all practitioners?
After 40 minutes of discussion, HRH arrived, and a 45-minute discussion was chaired by Mary Colwell, with representatives from each table summarising their findings. After lunch there was a site visit to a nearby area targeted for Curlew recovery (reintroduction).
Some of the most important points raised through the discussions were:
- The need for a long-term vision for wader recovery, not limited to a few years. Any schemes also needed to be flexible, allowing for variation of conditions in different areas and for change if existing practice proved not to be working.
- The need for an open and honest public discussion on predator control.
- The need for a central, independent hub for dissemination of information (via a website?), a liaison point for various groups and to ‘be across’ all national projects. Possibly set up paid Curlew Champions who know their local area and act as a central point in partnership with various organisations. The Curlew Forum was raised as an example.
It was a stimulating day, HRH was fully engaged with the discussion and gave a passionate summing-up of his thoughts on Curlew and encouraging everyone to do what they can so that we don’t lose its haunting, beautiful call across our landscapes. The conveners of the day will now send next steps and findings to HRH on how to take things forward.
by Mary Colwell
Published on 19th April 2018
William Collins £16.99 ISBN 978000824105 6
PUBLISHED TO TIE-IN WITH WORLD CURLEW DAY ON 21st APRIL
‘In this empowering account of a walk that focuses a razor light on the plight of one of the UK and Ireland’s most iconic birds, Mary Colwell adds a powerful fresh voice to the conservation debate and challenges us to think and act differently. Inspirational!’ Tim Birkhead
Curlews with their long curved bills are Britain’s largest wading birds. Their plaintive calls, celebrated in both verse and music, are the sound of the British wilderness – a haunting song which is the springtime music of our uplands, moorlands, marshes and seacoasts.
But so fast has been their fall in numbers that the curlew has now been put on the Red List of the UK’s most endangered birds. Over the last 22 years the curlew has declined by more than 50 per cent across England and Scotland and by more than 80 per cent in Wales and Ireland and it is now sliding rapidly towards extinction.
To raise awareness of the curlew’s rapid decline and funds for its conservation, Mary Colwell, a nature writer and long established producer at the BBC Natural History Unit, went on a 500 mile walk from the West of Ireland to the East of England to track these elusive birds and observe them in their different habitats. CURLEW MOON is the account of her journey. Starting in the early spring, when birds are first arriving at their breeding grounds in the west of Ireland, she then walks to Wales, where they incubate their eggs. She makes her way through England to coincide with the time when chicks are hatching and six weeks after setting out she arrives in East Anglia as the fledglings are beginning to try out their wings. Finishing on the east coast, she marks the place where many curlews come to spend the winter.
Curlews need wet, rough pasture to nest, and their decline has largely been driven by loss of this habitat – in Ireland, by the stripping of boglands for peat and elsewhere, by widespread forestry planting and other developments which have destroyed nesting sites, including increased predation by foxes and crows. But although their decline has been drastic there is still time to do something about it. Weaving an evocative tale of discovery interspersed with the natural history of the curlew, CURLEW MOON focuses a light on the plight of this iconic bird which so desperately needs our help.
For enquiries, please contact Helen Ellis: email@example.com; 020 8307 4250
Curlew surveys in lowland England in the 2018 breeding season
The only snippet of information I have so far (mid-March) is from a volunteer who is seeing one pair within a known territory. We will be undertaking some coordinated watches to establish if there are others in the area over the next few weeks.
Claire Mucklow: firstname.lastname@example.org
At the RSPB reserve on West Sedgemoor reserve we’ll use the thermal scope a lot more this year to get a better understanding of curlew activity, especially in the following areas:
- Pre-breeding (from mid-March) before they settle down on territory – we may be too late by mid-March but earlier all the wintering duck will get in the way. Might be an opportunity to pick up passage birds as well.
- Nest finding – this might speed up nest detection a lot more and help us locate nest we might otherwise miss.
- During the breeding season to see if there are communal roosts of non-incubating/failed breeders/immature birds.
- Ditto any night time feeding.
- Post-breeding – to see if there are communal roosts of non-incubating/failed breeders/immature birds. Do all our adult and fledged curlew leave the site immediately or do some of them stay around, possibly roosting?
Resourced through another sabbatical (this time Paul Parmenter, our Assistant Warden on West Sedge) plus a volunteer, Annie Pickering. I’ll remain ‘project executive’, the main point of external contact for the overall project.
All this to help get a better picture of site use.
We have a further five pairs or so on King’s Sedgemoor, so this year I’ll be looking at the site to try to determine which fields the Curlews are nesting/feeding in. Natural England are interested, and we hope to use the information to persuade them to talk to relevant farmers, so as to improve site condition for the remaining pairs.
Sadly, we only ringed two chicks last year and only one survived, so hoping to catch a few more this year.
Richard Archer: email@example.com
Curlew plans for 2018
- In late February we held a meeting for surveyors old and new (guest speaker Mike Smart!) which has now built a small but dedicated team.
- Although we now have a reasonable idea from last year’s surveys where Curlews might still be breeding, we are still inexperienced in finding the location of nests and unless we can do so we have no hope of offering protection. We therefore need to continue our efforts in this direction.
- Monitoring on its own, although useful, will not be enough – we will just be recording the Curlew’s extinction. It will be essential to engage with all landowners and get their assistance in protecting nest sites. We already have good relations with some, but we need to expand on this. They often have invaluable knowledge and are nearly always very enthusiastic.
- Although we have about 12 volunteers who want to help, not all have a lot of time available. Site surveying can be shared (see table below). Minimum weekly visits from now until mid-July are needed and/or until nest location is established.
- It was felt desirable to concentrate our efforts on just a few “flagship” sites such as Lugg Meadows and Sink Green with secondary efforts on a few other promising sites (Hampton Meadows, St. Margarets, Vagar Hill, Walterstone, Craswall).
- Lower Lugg Meadows has had record counts of Curlew and is being well watched. I have set up a WhatsApp group for participants to keep in touch.
- Some good success has come from our liaison with the Herefordshire Meadows group who posted a piece about our project on their website and we have had responses from two farmers already.
- Working with Herefordshire Wildlife Trust to reduce dog walker disruption at Upper Lugg and Hampton Meadows. New signs put up on Lower Lugg Meadows to prohibit public access during season.
Chris Robinson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gloucestershire and Worcestershire
In recent years, we have been monitoring breeding Curlews, mainly in the valleys of the Severn and Avon, but also on higher ground between the rivers in northern Worcestershire. In 2018, we plan (with Ian Duncan taking the lead) to continue the monitoring in the river vales, but also to extend activities to these relict upland populations. Our monitoring in the past has tended to concentrate on finding nesting sites and studying outcomes of nesting attempts. Exchanges with other groups in lowland Britain have convinced us that such efforts risk ‘monitoring extinction’, so in 2018 we plan to be much more active in Curlew conservation measures and in helping the birds to succeed in producing young birds. These efforts have been supported by a generous grant from the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society for the ’Curlew Meadows Project’ which emphasizes conservation not only of the birds, but of their floodplain habitats. To this end, we plan botanical and invertebrate studies as well.
Our 2018 plans include:
- More and better monitoring
- We hope to colour-ring more breeding birds, so as to improve our understanding of the acts of individual birds – so far with little success because the extensive flooding in the vales in March and April, we could not reach potential mist-netting sites, and our efforts at dazzling them by night have not been successful either.
- We hope to find more nests, and to monitor their success, among other things by using temperature loggers.
- Conservation measures at nests
- We plan to erect electric fences round nests we find.
- We are erecting signs on public footpaths at a number of sites, asking dog-walkers to keep their dogs on leads or under close control.
- We are organizing World Curlew Day events at key sites to raise public awareness
- Cooperation with farmers and landowners
- We are already in touch with many of the key farmers, who in general value and are proud of their breeding Curlews.
- A ‘Severn Guardians’ Facilitation Fund concentrating on Curlews and Eels, and led by Gloucestershire FWAG and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, has been approved and initiated.
- Head starting
- We have applied for permission to take eggs for head starting, and have aviary facilities available, so are hoping to begin in a very small way this year with a pilot project affecting a very small number of nests.
Shropshire Hills and the Welsh Marches
Previous Newsletters have highlighted the ground-breaking, pioneering work on Curlews (involving fieldwork, community activities and cooperation with farmers in Shropshire and the Welsh Marches) carried out by the Curlew Country project. The project’s results have acted as an example and an inspiration to other groups in lowland England and have contributed in a fundamental way to many of the Curlew meetings held in the last two years. The note below by Amanda Perkins presents the project’s plans for 2018.
Elsewhere in this Newsletter, Amanda presents a retrospective on the first phase of the project’s work. In addition, work on Curlews has been carried out and continues in other areas of Shropshire, and an account of this work and of plans for 2018 is presented by Leo Smith.Curlew Country, the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches based lowland Curlew recovery project has been awarded fresh funding from a national fund to continue its work. The project was one of 14 that formed part of the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme which ended at Easter. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust are now hosting the project so that Curlew Country’s work can continue. Natural England, another partner, has kindly offered office space and facilities to Curlew Country in its office on the Stiperstones, so the base is now even more central to the project focus area.
On the ground, the season is late as in many other places and weather has hampered progress. The Curlews are back in their territories, but not easily seen on site through the fog and rain.
This year we will be rearing more chicks (head starting) after the successful trial last year. We will continue to use fences and carry out targeted fox and crow control. The funding received, does not include funding for predation control, but our contractors have kindly offered to do this on a voluntary basis in some key areas as they are so keen to help more chicks to survive to fledging stage.
Curlew Country will also be starting to focus on habitat in greater detail. The farmers’ steering group is keen to discover what other wildlife there may be on their farms and some survey work will start this year with a view to forming a landscape scale plan in the longer term. A natural capital project will also be trialled with a view to discovering alternative income from land supporting breeding Curlew. CurlewCam will be back.
Volunteers are approaching the project wanting to stay or get involved and we will be continuing a programme of awareness raising and engagement activities through our arts projects and other events.
Curlew Country’s new contact details are:
Telephone: 01743 296100
Address: Rigmoreoak, Pennerley, Minsterley, Shropshire, SY5 0NE
For more news and updates please see www.curlewcountry.org
Upper Thames river valleys, Oxfordshire
Currently (early April), the river valleys are flooded, meaning the Curlews are sitting on any islands or feeding along the edges of ditches which have previously been cleared out (thereby creating a bit of higher ground next to the ditch). This makes for an interesting survey method … the site faithful birds are easier to find on smaller patches of ground!!
The RSPB’s Upper Thames Curlew Project will continue in 2018, completing the third year of the trial project. Volunteers will be surveying approximately 40 sites as part of our standard wader surveys, with 12 also being surveyed on a weekly basis for Curlews. As in previous years, the weekly surveys will help to direct nest finding efforts.
This year we have recruited and trained a small number of volunteers to help with this work, although the staff team will work with them to install the temperature loggers and to collect habitat information. We will also be helping to run trail cameras for the Ministry of Defence on nests found on their Otmoor firing range.
Charlotte Kinnear: Charlotte Kinnear@rspb.org.uk
Salisbury Plain & Stonehenge World Heritage Site
We shall be out and about again this year on the Plain, surveying for nesting pairs and monitoring their progress…. Having found five pairs and a single so far (early April) it looks at least that we’ll not be looking at a decline on last year’s numbers ……and will have something to report in newsletter 6! I’ve put in a request to the Ministry of Defence for funds to cover the temperature loggers.
Please note the spreadsheet in the Appendix at the end of the Newsletter; it is very important to have standardized monitoring for all nests in different regions, and we hope that everyone will adopt this system.
Philip Sheldrake: email@example.com
- The New Forest Curlew survey report for 2017 will be released in the week prior to World Curlew Day on 21 April, in an attempt to raise local awareness.
- The 2017 survey report basically confirms our shocking 2016 result that the New Forest breeding population of Curlew is now down to 40 territories (representing a reduction of two-thirds over the last two decades), and that Redshank are all but extinct as a breeding species in the open forest.
- Lapwing and Snipe seem to be holding up better, with an estimated 100-150 territories of both species, although this result is more tentative as these species are not rigorously recorded during the survey.
- I will be presenting our 2017 survey results at the New Forest Association Annual General Meeting on World Curlew Day, which will include senior representatives from the National Park Authority and several key other organisations from the New Forest.
- We are working with, but also putting increased pressure on, the main management bodies in the New Forest to tackle the issue of recreational disturbance, which is being noted (anecdotally) by our survey team as a significant pressure on ground-nesting waders in the New Forest.
- A sign of progress is that we have been invited to brief the Forestry Commission and National Park Authority seasonal rangers and local keepers on 18 April, and they have agreed to focus public engagement in areas where we have identified high densities of breeding waders, and will also be contributing their sightings to the survey itself.
- Our 2018 survey team is in place and as of 29 March we have recorded pairs of Curlews back at six territories, but the inclement weather does seem to be delaying some returns. Lapwing numbers seem rather low so far, possibly because many birds are in poor breeding condition. On the upside the New Forest is very wet underfoot compared to last spring, which may help boost productivity of those waders that are able to breed.
Russ Wynn: firstname.lastname@example.org
CURLEW COUNTRY – A NEW PHASE AND A SUMMARY OF THE LPS YEARS
The Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) ended at Easter. Curlew Country was one of 14 active projects that formed part of the LPS, but which evolved and grew in ways that were not anticipated before the LPS began.
The LPS has received fresh funding for a new phase of the project and will continue with its work to save lowland Curlews, particularly in the focus area of the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches, and to undertake research and trial interventions that will enable Curlew population stability in the longer term.
Before the LPS started, during the consultation phase prior to application for funding, 97% of those consulted voted for a Curlew recovery project.
Prior to the project good foundation work was carried out by local Community Wildlife Group volunteers, concentrating in part of the Shropshire Curlew ‘hotspot’ area with the highest density of breeding pairs of Curlew in Shropshire. Survey work carried out according to BTO methodology established the serious decline in adult population numbers in what is now the area in which Curlew Country operates. It was this group who pushed for a project to form part of the LPS. Their survey work continues and is enhanced by the two new Community Wildlife Groups created through another LPS project.
The design of the project that went into the LPS failed quickly. It was based on a traditional model of a project officer going out and briefing farmers on what to do in terms of habitat management to support Curlews and assisting them to access agri-environment schemes. The farmers were very receptive to the idea of a project to help waders. They were however weary of people ‘telling them what to do’ as they saw it, said ‘why would I do anything for Curlew when they will be predated anyway?’, ‘you conservationists need to get real about predation control, you are part of the problem, not the solution’. This led to a complete re-design of the project.
The new project plan was to work in close partnership with farmers and to closely monitor nests to discover what was causing nest failure in the Shropshire and Welsh Marches breeding Curlew population of about 40 pairs of Curlew within a 200km2 area. A Project Advisory Group was appointed to help oversee technical aspects of the project. The RSPB drew up a nest monitoring brief and a field ornithologist was engaged to carry out the nest monitoring work.
The farmers living with the constant threat and reality of TB were convinced that the reason for failure in Curlew nests would be badgers. Some local conservationists were concerned about the idea of predation control and some thought that habitat loss and management were the only reasons for nest failure. Two years of nest monitoring with cameras and thermacrons (data loggers) revealed that most nests were being predated at nest stage, mainly by foxes, and by badgers to a lesser extent. Chicks were monitored using radio tags. No chicks survived in Year 1 of the nest monitoring work. In Year 2 when only three nests with eggs remained, they were fenced with temporary electric fencing using a design used by Natalie Meyer protecting Curlew nests in Schleswig Holstein and recommended to Curlew Country by one of its national partners, The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. Following fencing of the three nests, the eggs hatched, but all the chicks were subsequently lost and the radio tagging was largely unsuccessful as most chicks were taken out of range fairly quickly and presumed predated.
In year 3 (2017), interventions were introduced to try and enable greater breeding success. Temporary electric fences were erected around as many nests as possible and trial areas of predation control were introduced. Predation control was not possible across the whole LPS area as it can be costly and many grant makers will not fund this work or even fund a project where predation control is an element of the work. In this third and final LPS year of the project, 30 chicks hatched from the nests monitored, and between one and three survived to fledge successfully. When only three Curlew family groups remained, the predation control contractors were all asked to focus on the areas in which they were feeding. Whilst the observations are not in any way scientific, it is likely anecdotally that the fox control in these areas contributed to chick survival.
The use of temporary electric fencing was a first on the UK mainland. Another new initiative for UK Curlew was the application of a licence to take and rear Curlew eggs. The idea was that the eggs would be taken and replaced with eggs closer to hatching stage. At the end of the season we were left with six eggs, but with nowhere to return them. Six chicks were reared and released at a migratory roost having been ringed and colour ringed.
The enthusiasm of the community getting involved with the Curlew Country project has been inspirational. Alongside the conservation volunteer work others have got involved with arts initiatives, including sculpture workshops, a Curlew choir, writing workshops, a reminiscences project and various family arts projects. Help with money-raising ideas has been generated from these inclusive events that raise awareness and inspire fresh ideas to help Curlews.
Curlew Country’s farming partners cannot support Curlews if their farm businesses are not also thriving. A farmers’ steering group has been formed to oversee Curlew recovery work, discover what other wildlife there is on their farms and to form and implement a plan that provides sustainability for both wildlife and farming at landscape scale. There has been professional analysis of the real cost to farmers of supporting breeding Curlews on their land and the findings are being handed on to policy makers at both a local and national level.
Curlews in Shropshire, and the Save our Curlews campaign
Breeding Bird Atlas surveys were carried out in 1985-90, and in 2008-13, by Shropshire Ornithological Society. The change in Curlew distribution over less than 25 years is shown in the map opposite, to be published in the forthcoming Birds of Shropshire. Curlews occupied the tetrads shaded grey in both Atlas periods, but there was a reduction of 62% in tetrads with breeding evidence (downward red triangles), and Curlews have disappeared from many parts of the County. In 1990 the population was estimated at 700 pairs, but the estimate of 160 pairs in 2010 represents a catastrophic 77% decline in only 20 years.
Monitoring by Community Wildlife Groups (CWGs) has shown that the population has declined further since 2010 (see below).
The areas covered by each of the CWGs is shown in the Appendix.
The first CWG, the Upper Onny Wildlife Group (UOWG), has been monitoring its Curlew population since 2004, in 125 sq.km. between the Long Mynd and the Welsh border. Even in the County stronghold, it has declined by almost one-third (32%) in only 13 years. The chart shows the decline.
During this time, as well as producing annual reports detailing the decline, UOWG has put forward several Curlew conservation initiatives.
A detailed map, showing all areas where Curlews had been seen breeding or foraging, was submitted to Natural England (NE) in 2012, when most farms in the area were transferring from the Environmentally Sensitive Area agri-environment scheme to the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) element of the Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme. UOWG proposed that all Curlew habitat should be incorporated into HLS agreements. NE accepted this in principle. When the process was completed, 31 of the 37 holdings with HLS agreements in the Curlew foraging areas had HLS options in place that specifically safeguarded Curlew: 53% of the foraging area was under HLS agreement, and 29% under an option that safeguards Curlew. These are 10-year agreements, many planned to run until 2024.
When NE consulted on the Targeting Statement for the new Countryside Stewardship agri-environment scheme, which replaced ES in 2015, UOWG nest-site data was used to show that Curlews did not breed here in the same habitat as the other species in the “wader assemblage”, and the initial proposals were changed so Curlew is now a target (priority) species in its own right.
When a Heritage Lottery funded Stiperstones-Corndon Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) was proposed in 2012, the decline in the Curlew population found up until then (18% in eight years) was used by UOWG to justify proposing a Curlew Recovery Project as part of the LPS. This was agreed, and the project has evolved into “Curlew Country”. Monitoring by Community Wildlife Groups (CWGs) across the whole of the LPS area found an estimated 44 – 48 breeding pairs in 2017 (including 2-3 in Wales), around 30% of the County population. The LPS area, and Curlew Country’s area of operation, are indicated in the Appendix.
The second CWG, covering the Upper Clun (basically the River Clun catchment west of Clun Bridge, about 110 sq.km.), started monitoring the Curlew population in 2007, when 20-22 pairs were found. There was a rapid decline until 2010, followed by a less steep decline to 2017, when 8-9 pairs were found (a 60% decline since 2007).
UCCWG started its own Save our Curlews Campaign in 2016, and one nest was found and fenced in 2017.
Other CWGs have started more recently, but have not been surveying long enough to produce robust estimates or trends yet. Two CWGs in the LPS area, Rea Valley and Camlad Valley started in 2014. Their results are included in the LPS total above. Together with UOWG, 76 tetrads are covered by these three CWGs.
Strettons area (30 tetrads) found 5-7 pairs of Curlew in 2017. Another new group, the Three Parishes of St. Martin’s, Weston Rhyn & Gobowen, the first CWG outside the Shropshire Hills, covered 25 tetrads to the north and north-east of Oswestry, and found 3-4 pairs.
Continued decline since 2010
The three CWGs that have established trends shown in the graphs above had an estimated 54 Curlew pairs in 2010. Eleven (20%) have been lost since. If this rate of loss applied to the whole population, estimated at 160 pairs in 2010, the population in 2017 was around 130 pairs.
Community Wildlife Groups – overview
In 2017, 171 people participated in the surveys carried out by the seven CWGs, and spent a total of 1,400 hours doing them. This is a very clear demonstration of how much local people value the Curlews.
Members of the groups are recruited through promotion in the local communities. Very few are active birdwatchers or members of conservation organisations.
When the two new groups are established in 2018, the number of participants, and the time they spend, will grow, and over half of the Shropshire Curlew population will be systematically monitored.
Apart from the initial attempts at nest finding in the Upper Clun, described above, the CWGs have made no attempt to find nests. However the CWG work in locating territories is the foundation for the Save our Curlews campaign described next.
Save our Curlews Campaign
Prompted partly by Mary Colwell’s walk, and the declines summarised above, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shropshire Ornithological Society started discussions in early 2017 about the need to safeguard the priority work of the LPS project, and initiate conservation work in other “hotspots” across the County. A joint campaign, funded by an appeal, was launched in November 2017. The campaign is overseen by the “Shropshire Curlews Group”, led by SWT, and including representatives of the Community Wildlife Groups, Natural England, the National Trust and RSPB, as well as SOS.
The campaign has adopted a strategy based on CWGs locating Curlew territories, then, when that has been achieved, working closely with landowners and farmers to find and protect nests.
The areas covered by existing CWGs were reviewed, in relation to the Curlew distribution found in the 2008-13 Bird Atlas, as shown in Appendix 1. They are numbered on the map, and named in the table below.
Most patches with a concentration of Curlews were already covered, but there were two gaps, and it was decided to launch new CWGs to cover them in 2018, to the south of Oswestry, and in the Severn-Vyrnwy Confluence. These groups have now been started. The CWGs between them will monitor over half of the County population.
The Appeal has been successful, and has raised sufficient funds for work to start in 2018 in the Upper Clun and Clee Hill areas (2 and 3 on the map in the Appendix), to find and protect nests with electric fencing, and radio tag and monitor chicks. Contacting the landowners and farmers in these areas that had Curlew territories in 2017, to brief them and gain their support, is already underway.
This is a long-term campaign. It is hoped that the Appeal, and fundraising led by SWT, will enable nest finding and protection to be undertaken in all the areas where CWGs are locating territories, as and when each group has collected the necessary information to make finding a good proportion of the nests a realistic possibility. Subject to raising the funds, this will happen in the next couple of years.
The SWT / SOS campaign and the Shropshire Curlew Group will work across the rest of Shropshire, pursuing the strategy outlined above.
The Community Wildlife Groups have a joint website, www.ShropsCWGs.org.uk.
Details of the SWT / SOS Appeal can be found on www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/appeals
Leo Smith: email@example.com March 2018
The underlying map is the Curlew distribution map found by Bird Atlas work in 2008-13.
Fieldwork covered all 870 tetrads in the County. A red dot (large = confirmed breeding, middle size = probable breeding, and small = possible breeding, definitions as set out in Bird Atlas 2007-2011 (BTO 2013)) shows where Curlews were found during the Atlas period.
The blue rectangles show the areas covered by CWGs at the end of 2016. They are numbered in order of formation, and names and vital statistics are shown in the Table.
The green rectangles show the areas to be covered by the new CWGs 8 and 9, starting in 2018.
The CWGs collectively will then be monitoring over half the estimated County Curlew population.
Curlew Country operates within an area enclosed by CWGs 1, 4 and 5. Note that No.5, Camlad Valley, includes nine tetrads in Wales in a triangular area bounded on two sides by Shropshire.
Status and future of Curlew in Wales
Builth Wells, 24 January 2018
A conference, organised by: Mary Colwell, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Ornithological Society, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB Cymru, Ecology Matters, Mike Smart.
Conclusions and recommendations
A message to influence the role and direction of Curlew conservation action in Wales
Due to its adverse global conservation status, the global importance but chronic decline of the UK’s breeding population, and the large numbers of breeding birds from north-west Europe that winter in the UK, the Eurasian Curlew is now considered to be the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK. The Welsh Curlew conference was the third UK and Ireland Conference to be held for this species and was attended by 120 participants from across the conservation, farming, game and rural policy sectors. The conference, organised by six partners involved in bird research and conservation in the UK, addressed the issue of reversing Curlew declines in Wales (for the agenda see Annex 1). The primary objective of the conference was to identify and build a consensus on the priorities for Curlew conservation action in Wales.
During the conference, a committee drafted the conclusions, recommendations and associated actions presented here. This document aims to:
- Provide a statement of the role of Welsh Curlew conservation in global biodiversity conservation
- Identify Curlew conservation priorities in Wales
- Contribute to the setting of Curlew conservation action in Wales.
The recommendations are centred on Wales. However, there were many participants from across the UK and Ireland; and many of the recommendations have UK and Ireland implications. The conference would welcome their consideration and use as a model in any other UK and Ireland regions.
These conclusions and recommendations are addressed to governmental and non-governmental organisations at local, national and international levels that are working to promote the species’ recovery, as well as to all agencies, including policy-makers, funding agencies and academic institutions, both within and out-with Wales, whose decisions will have an impact on the effectiveness of Curlew conservation action.
The recommendations were identified during an afternoon workshop session where 11 groups (each consisting of 10 delegates) were asked the question – “What do we need to initiate a Curlew programme for recovery in Wales?” Contributions from these groups were collated to identify the top five themes, here ranked in terms of importance. The delegate groups were then asked, “What are the solutions/recommendations for each theme?” As for the first question, the main actions suggested across all groups were collated and summarised. The key Curlew recommendations and associated actions were:
- Establish an All-Wales Curlew Action Group
- Identify a lead organisation to drive the formation of the Action Group.
- Develop a Wales Curlew Action Plan.
- Develop Welsh regional Curlew working groups (eg North, mid and South Wales)
- Consider the Irish Curlew model as a fit for Wales.
- Build stronger collaborative working both with biologists, landowners/occupiers and decision-makers across the range of land-use and economic policy.
- Include local champions/co-coordinators to ensure collaboration with professionals.
- Develop an All Wales Curlew Working Group website and email forum.
- Implement a monitoring programme of key Curlew populations
- Establish an inventory of Curlew “hot spots” from the Bird Atlas (2007-2011) and other data sources eg RSPB Cymru.
- Circulate an open request to all stakeholders and farming communities for Curlew records within and out-with key Curlew areas.
- Establish a network of bespoke Curlew recorders.
- Establish a network of community-led groups to monitor, engage with research initiatives (GPS tagging, mobile predator fences), fundraise and take ownership of breeding Curlew in their area.
- Standardise monitoring approaches to ensure repeatability and comparability (i.e. 3/5 visits).
- Promote the concept of a national Curlew co-ordinator.
- Research and recommended improvements to Curlew agri-environment prescriptions.
- Evidence-based review of Curlew prescriptions within existing agri-environment schemes (AES). Have they worked? Are they suitable?
- Pro-Curlew policies embedded within AES ie outcome-led prescriptive management.
- Effective, transparent monitoring of Curlew AES outcome(s).
- Review and publish existing work on Curlew-specific AES prescriptions, uptake, spatial matching (is it happening in the right places?) and Curlew response (impact) from Tir Gofal and Glastir monitoring programmes.
- Analyse habitat where Atlas/BirdTrack report territorial Curlew and critically review habitat prescriptions for AES.
- Support research on ecological requirements of breeding Curlew in upland and lowland Wales (tracking, invertebrate sampling, nest protection etc).
- Develop recommendations on AES prescriptions including spatial scale and habitat extent/quality.
- Advocate the concept of cross-boundary farm agreements at a landscape level ie farm clusters to deliver all components of Curlew breeding ecology.
- Pilot demonstration scheme for Curlew prescriptive measures.
- Use a strong lobbying voice from NGO sector to encourage political will.
- Engage famers and landowners
- Develop a network of local coordinators in each Curlew hotspot to liaise and undertake monitoring.
- Co-ordinated media campaign across all stakeholders to raise the plight of Curlew.
- Identify local farming Curlew champions within each Curlew key area to raise the awareness within farming communities.
- Develop anti-predator measures (ie predator control, regional network of electric fences).
- Targeted, but consistent messages advocated by landowning representative organisations (FWAG Cymru, NFUW, FUW, Grazing Associations, BASC, GWCT, Countryside Alliance) to raise Curlew conservation with their members.
- Create a ‘Curlew friendly farm’ premium for farm products.
- Develop an All Wales Curlew Working Group website accessible to all.
- Create public awareness about the decline of Curlews.
- Co-ordinated media campaign across all stakeholders to raise the plight of Curlew.
- Co-ordinated presentations to local groups eg Young Farmers, Girl Guides.
- All Wales Curlew Working Group website and forum, social media etc.
- Targeted Curlew TV programme (ie Iolo Williams).
The Irish Curlew experience teaches us that the universal commitment to species recovery or action planning with specific objectives can be a valuable catalyst in ensuring the efficient and effective channelling of conservation action. Scientific rapid-evaluation approaches have proved effective in several high-profile UK recovery projects that have reversed population declines in species such as Bittern, Crane, Black Grouse, Chough and Red Kite.
A range of striking features emerged throughout the day by both speakers, chairs and other participants, these are captured below.
Curlew are an iconic species of upland heath and lowland grasslands and are a hugely popular species that embody wild places; they provoke a range of emotions that many have expressed in poetry, art and music and the public will demand their conservation. The great Welsh poets have used the evocative call of the Curlew to capture a range of sentiments – R S Thomas, Vernon Watkins and Dylan Thomas have all used Curlews in their work, and much of Welsh folklore refers to the power of Curlews calling over the moors. To lose the Curlew from Wales is to lose more than just a species, it is the loss of a creature that has inspired generations of thinkers, writers, artists and musicians.
Steve Redpath articulated the need for collaborative working and suggested that biologists, conservationists and ornithologists in Wales and elsewhere need to build stronger partnerships both with other biologists, farmers and with decision-makers across land-use and economic policy. This will be facilitated by better communication built on clear but simple messages for non-biologists. There are many examples where Action Plans have been shelved because they were written by species specialists with little or no input from other stakeholders, particularly from across other relevant sectors and local community participation. Clearly, the relevant conservation specialists must be involved in developing the framework for Curlew conservation action. However, a key message from this conference was that it is vital that local stakeholders are involved in this process with the need for a flexible interplay between a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approach.
Curlew recovery can be grouped into four linked areas: 1) monitoring populations and identification of problems and priorities, 2) ecological studies leading to the identification of causes and testing of potential solutions, 3) successful conservation outcomes and 4) raised awareness of public, landowner/occupier and decision-makers, leading to a better policy.
There was a strong feeling that the geographical range contribution of Curlew breeding in Wales should be maintained in the short-term and enhanced in the long-term, both to avoid the risk of local or wider extinction and to enable people to enjoy them. With this view, a monitoring programme must be urgently developed and taken forward to identify Curlew “hot spots” throughout Wales in both upland and lowland habitats.
Several speakers emphasized that detailed ecological research with long data series is the ideal basis for conservation action. However, the conservation urgency for Curlew demands shorter studies, informed by intuition and knowledge to reach specific recommendations for action either at a local, regional or country level. Several inspirational discussions suggest this should be facilitated by a volunteer led approach, where for example, all monitoring and or science projects is repeatable and comparable with other Curlew areas.
Monitoring, research and recovery action across all Curlew key areas must be taken forward locally where there is an integrated and common approach of data exchange and information to reinforce national actions across the species’ range. Such scoping will depend on a coordinated, large and widespread force of volunteer input.
The conservation intervention tool of headstarting was discussed and it was suggested that this approach could be applied to increase Curlew breeding success. Headstarting involves specialists collecting eggs from incubating birds in the wild, hatching and hand-raising the chicks in captivity to fledging age, and releasing the birds back into the wild. This intervention has been trialed on avian species recovery programmes for globally endangered species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and in UK for Black-tailed Godwit.
One of the key aspects considered important was to promote the engagement with farming and landowner communities; this could be delivered by encouraging and nurturing ‘local Curlew champions’. It was accepted that farmers are enthusiastic about Curlews but may not fully understand the reasons for decline. Local (hopefully Welsh speaking) independent enthusiasts could be invaluable in building that understanding and enthusiasm for tackling all the issues surrounding the decline, galvanising and getting them thinking/talking.
Following on from the recent ‘Call of the Curlew’ workshop a website has been already set up at www.curlewcall.org with a view to conserving breeding Curlews in southern and lowland Britain. This site contains a lot of basic information that would be of value to Welsh Curlew workers, and the Curlew Forum would be very happy to offer space on Welsh Curlews on this website until the Welsh website is up and running.
Predation on Curlew
There is growing evidence from studies in the UK and elsewhere that breeding populations of several ground-nesting birds, such as waders, are more likely to be limited by predation. Andrew Hoodless (GWCT) presented a review of Curlew breeding success and how this is influenced by the impact of predation. It was suggested that Curlew need to have a breeding success of > 0.5 fledged chicks per breeding pair to maintain population stability. Peer-reviewed studies suggest a high proportion of breeding attempts failed at the nest stage, with predation accounting for a significant percentage of nest failures.
Discussion focused on the suite of intervention measures that can be applied to reduce its impact. Such interventions included removal (predator control) and/or exclusion of predators (anti-predatory fencing). Several presentations touched on targeted predator control as an effective form of intervention to improve Curlew breeding success. Excluding mammalian predators (foxes, badgers) with mobile electric fences was also considered as an alternative intervention tool. Here temporary exclosures protect individual nests to improve hatching success, as demonstrated by the work undertaken in Shropshire.
An agri-environment scheme fit for Curlew recovery
There is a need for an evidence-based review of existing AES requirements for breeding Curlew. Have they worked? Are they suitable? It was recognised that the key requirements are the maintenance of extensive farming systems, including options for out-wintering cattle and appropriate levels of grazing. Discussion also centred on a key element to any AES delivery, namely, securing capital works payments that are realistic and attractive enough to deliver species recovery. Curlew would benefit from adjustments in agricultural policies where farmers are incentivised on outcome-led results.
Natural resource management
A main challenge often discussed was how to incorporate Curlew conservation delivery into the broader framework of delivery for the sustainable management of natural resources (SMNR). This was crucial to enable the unlocking of funding streams on a wider scale. It was widely noted that a case study or trial is required to demonstrate and articulate how the key principles of SMNR can be delivered e.g. Curlew /mixed-grazing /quality premium produce /traditional breeds /sustainable moorland grazing /re-wetting peat /hay meadows /pollinators /legal predator control /farm economics /eco-system resilience /human well-being.
The Conference organising committee express their gratitude and appreciation to all the speakers and participants for their energy, enthusiasm and passion for Curlew recovery in Wales.
- The drafting committee will convene and identify membership of a Wales Curlew Action Group and convene a meeting of the group before May 2018. Regional working groups may also be created to support the strategic direction of curlew work in Wales
- Develop a Wales Curlew recovery plan
- Identify Curlew ‘hot-spots’ in both upland and lowland habitats by interrogating the Bird Atlas data
- Develop a network of community groups within each Curlew hot spot
- Initiate constructive dialogue with key decision-makers across conservation, governmental and policy areas before May 2018.
Ecology Matters Trust
A system for unified monitoring of Curlew nest
The Excel sheet below has been developed by Phil Sheldrake, as a suggested unified system of monitoring which would allow rapid comparison and rapid summary of records of Curlews nesting right across lowland Britain. (NB: the entries are entirely fictitious, and do not represent actual nests; they are included only as an example). Comments would be welcome; even more welcome would be use of the sheet in 2018! If you would like an emailed version of the Excel Sheet, please contact Phil Sheldrake at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mike Smart at email@example.com
(The picture of the sheet is not reproduced here.)