This year the three sites previously covered in 2019 were covered again – Aston Upthorpe/Lowbury Hill, RAF Welford and Upper Lambourn. Survey methods followed the guidelines laid down by the Curlew Forum, with two visits in April followed by a further three between mid-May and July. In addition, other reports (to BerksBirds and from surveyors for the Berkshire Farmland surveys) having provided further information.
2. SITE RESULTS
2.1 Aston Upthorpe/Lowbury Hill
This was the first area colonised, and comprises an area on the Berkshire/Oxfordshire border where summering birds were first noted and breeding proved in the late 1980s. Since then, Curlew have been noted most years, ranging over quite a wide area from Aldworth in the south and to Compton Downs in the west, an area extending about 2-3km north to south and 6km east to west. The core of the range is land forming part of the Woodway Racehorse Training establishment south of Blewbury in the east of this area. This core area forms a triangle of land approximately 3kmx2kmx3km without public access in a larger area that otherwise has a network of well-used public rights of way (including the Ridgeway and Fair Mile), with racehorse gallops, some unimproved grassland including the steep-sided Juniper Valley in a landscape otherwise predominantly arable. There are two Stone Curlew patches at Juniper Valley in close proximity to the core of the range.
Curlews were noted on all survey visits up to and including May, with other casual visits yielding records between 27 March and 30 May, mostly of a pair with bubbling noted throughout. However, there was no sign on the June survey (10th) nor any later casual reports, except one of a bird heard bubbling at Compton on 24 June.
2.2 RAF Welford
This site comprises a former airbase that has been used as an ammunition depot by the USAF since 1955. It is an area of about 3sq km enclosed by security fencing, and has been surveyed from adjoining farm tracks by permission of the Welford Park Estate. Most of the surrounding area is arable farmland. Inside the fence there are a large number of concrete bunkers in grassland. Curlew were first recorded as breeding on the site during the 2007-11 bird atlas project. In 2019 a pair with 3 young were seen close to the boundary fence in the first year of the Berkshire Downs Curlew survey. In 2020 the manager of the Welford Park Estate reported hearing Curlews in the early spring during lockdown, however when the site was visited after lockdown there was no trace of Curlew.
There seemed to have been a change in land management on the base between the two years. In 2019 there were a number of areas of long grass which seemed to have been left uncut. In 2020 all the grassed areas visible (not all the base can be viewed from the accessible perimeter) had been close mown.
Although the site was visited for the survey throughout the breeding season in 2021 there was no trace of any Curlew, even though there were again areas of longer grass.
Curlew have been reported in the Upper Lambourn area in the breeding season since the 1990s and breeding has been confirmed in at least three years since. The area comprises a mix of racehorse gallops with surrounding rough grassland and agricultural (usually arable) land. As with the Aston Upthorpe area, birds are often recorded from quite a wide area, with records from 5 tetrads in the area during the 2007-11 Bird Atlas breeding season surveys. The area is relatively remote from most of the population of Berkshire, and is not often visited by birders.
In 2021, a pair were present in the area of the Jockey Club Gallops at Wellbottom Down where there is a substantial area of rough grass in the middle of the gallops from the first visit early in April until at least 20 May, but no bubbling on the May visit. There was still a single bird present there on 4 June, and although none was seen on a last visit on 1 July, although a jockey met during the survey said he had heard one early that morning. A second pair were present on the second April visit south of the Wellbottom Down site, but not seen subsequently, either on survey visits or in casual records
Outside the Curlew survey there were two other records of Curlew in June on BerksBirds (2 on the 9th, one on the 13th)
From this year’s results it appears that there were just two territories held, one at Aston Upthorpe and one at Upper Lambourn. There was no evidence of either hatching or fledging of young.
Thanks to Andy Tomczynski and Andrew Taylor for their hard work and prompt submission of returns.