Westminster Hall debate on “Lowland Curlews” on 17 October 2017 – now updated with report

Richard Benyon, the MP for Newbury, has initiated a Westminster Hall debate on “Lowland Curlews” next Tuesday 17 October. This is a half hour debate held outside the parliamentary chamber (where there is much pressure on time for debate), at the end of which the Minister makes a statement. It is most encouraging that an MP has taken up the issue of the decline in breeding Curlews in southern England, which is the principal reason for the existence of this website and the Southern Curlew Forum.  The debate will be televised on www.parliamentlive.tv

It is very much to be hoped that this publicity will lead to more support (and perhaps finance) from Government sources for conservation and monitoring of Curlew.  The Southern Curlew Forum has emailed Mr Benyon, informing him about the Slimbridge workshop, the recent Southern Curlew Forum session and the existence of the website, and saying we are at his disposal for further information. Watch this space!

Report on the debate

“On 17 October 2017 a Westminster Hall debate was held from 11.00 to 11.30 at the instigation of Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury in Berkshire, on the subject of ‘Lowland Curlews’. (Westminster Hall debates allow MPs to question ministers about subjects for which there is insufficient parliamentary time in the chamber of the House of Commons). Also present were the MPs for South Pembrokeshire and York Outer. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was represented by Dr Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. In the public seats were Mary Colwell and Mike Smart (on behalf of the Southern Curlew Forum) and representatives of the RSPB and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). The debate was televised on www.parliamentlive.tv and a detailed account of the debate is available at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-10-17/debates/17101737000001/LowlandCurlew.

“In his speech Mr Beynon presented an authoritative picture of the situation of breeding Curlews in lowland England, which would have been familiar to the Southern Curlew Forum. He noted that they had disappeared from the area of Berkshire which he represented and that there were probably less than 300 pairs south of Birmingham; he appealed to the Minister to ensure that the fate of the Curlew should not mirror that of the Corncrake.  With references to recent ornithological literature, he noted that the principal reason for the Curlew’s decline was the low production of chicks. In his view, designation of protected sites, grants to farmers and land managers for management of sites and use of electric fences to protect nests were not adequate measures to protect Curlew chicks.  He felt that the best way to protect chicks was to allow control of predators, particularly foxes, and suggested that Curlew projects which did not allow fox control should no longer be funded. He referred to the GWCT website which gave advice on predator control, and welcomed the £1.8 million RSPB project on Curlews in the uplands of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. He was convinced that what was required in the lowlands was not more research, but action on predator control, giving practical tools to landowners. On several occasions Mr Benyon gave way to the other MPs who made interventions supporting his views and illustrating the situation from their own experience.

“In her reply, Dr Coffey complimented Mr. Benyon on his role as a former DEFRA Minister, and agreed that he had set out a compelling case. She spoke of the UK’s special responsibilities in Curlew conservation, given the high proportion of the species’ numbers that occur in UK in winter and summer; she referred to international actions taken for Curlew, notably its inclusion on the IUCN Red List and the establishment of an Action Plan under the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA); she noted that a UK and Ireland Curlew Action Group had been established. She agreed that predator control was important, and was in the hands of farmers, but it was not the only appropriate measure, as recognised on the GWCT website; a combination of predator control and management measures was required. She noted that there were no Special Protection Areas for breeding Curlews, though a site on the North Pennine Moors (admittedly not a lowland site) met the criteria. She referred to the Stiperstones project in Shropshire and the RSPB project in the Upper Thames, where a variety of measures were being taken for Curlews, including raising of public awareness. In conclusion she agreed that action was necessary, as the Curlew was too important to be lost.

“After the debate, Mary Colwell and Mike Smart (together with the GWCT and RSPB representatives) had an opportunity to speak to Mr Benyon and the Minister, both of whom expressed a desire for further exchanges; we have sent a message to the Minister outlining measures which might be taken to promote better fledging rates for Curlew chicks, along the lines discussed at the Southern Curlew Forum meeting at Slimbridge on 11 October.”

Mary Colwell and Mike Smart

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