Curlew Forum Meeting 04.08.21 (by Zoom)

Chair: Phil Sheldrake

22 participants: Jon Avon, Juliet Bailey, Robert Blackler, Ellen Bradley, Damon Bridge, Stuart Brown, Will Bullough, Mary Colwell, Dave Conway, Jonathan Cooper, Samantha Franks, Eric Heath, Phil Hitchen, Geoff Hilton, Paul Noyes, Andy Page, Chris Robinson, Phil Sheldrake, Mike Smart, Nick Tomalin, Chris Wells, Russ Wynn.

Apologies: Neil Bucknell, Esther Clarke, John Dickinson, Ian Duncan, David Evans, Amanda Perkins, Mike Pollard, Peter Potts, Leo Smith, Sarah Wells, David Wilding.

The Curlew Forum Steering Committee draws attention to the following issues:

  • Record of previous meeting on 24 March 2021 posted on under “News”.
  • The first draft of this record was drawn up by Ellen Bradley of Curlew Action, whose valuable input is gratefully recognised.
  • Many of the issues raised in the meeting will be addressed by the Curlew Recovery Partnership work programme, currently under development, which will be available on 1 October.
  • Phil Sheldrake has requested the leader of each Curlew Forum area to submit information on the 2021 Curlew breeding season, so that an overall estimate can be made of the numbers of breeding Curlews and their success in raising chicks. Information requested is:
    • Total no. pairs observed
    • Total no. pairs confirmed breeding (if known pair nos. can be presented as previously, according to BTO breeding codes)
    • Total no. nests confirmed hatched
    • Total no. nests confirmed failed
    • Total no. nests fenced
    • Total no. chicks observed
    • Total no. young confirmed fledged

Item 1: Regional Updates

 Dave Conway, Cornwall

  • Carrying on with studies previously mentioned by Claire Mucklow
  • 4 pairs
  • 1 predated by crows. Other three nests produced respectively three, three and 2+ juveniles
  • Nests on hay fields, semi improved pasture, some on hillsides with gorse + purple moor grass
  • Disused clay pit, been flooded, being developed as a 7 acre refuge for curlews

Jon Avon, Dartmoor

  • Arrived on time, 17 March
  • Weather conditions very dry, followed by very cold
  • Increase from 4 to 5 territories
  • This year had extra birds across the moor
  • More females this year, most years just been males on territory
  • Crow removal implemented (10 crows removed when Curlews egg laying)
  • Confirmed two breeding attempts
  • Two chicks ringed (on site where crow removal happened). Don’t know outcome
  • Definitely one other fledged, first since 2016

 Damon Bridge – Somerset Levels

  • Usually 40-50 pairs
  • Late to start to season, lots of birds didn’t breed at all, making no attempt at nesting
  • Know of 2-3 successful fledged broods
  • Late alarm calling adults indicating chicks present
  • 7-8 fledged birds
  • No Curlews found at some sites where normally Curlews expected
  • Productivity as good as usual
  • Trial of short 25 by 25m fencing on 2 nests
  • One successful
  • One predated by avian predator
  • Plan to have an MSc student from Plymouth University next spring on the Somerset Moors to assist with the nest finding, nest monitoring and predator fencing. Resourcing was a big issue this year.

Mike Smart – Severn and Avon Vales, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire

  • Joint project: WWT, Worcester Curlew Survey, Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society
  • Weather made it a poor breeding season
  • Cold April delayed breeding 2-3 weeks
  • Wet May swamped some nests
  • 30-35 pairs normally, 34 found this year, only 15 nesting pairs identified; don’t know what happened to the other 19
  • Minimum 6, possibly 9, fledged chicks
  • Strange period mid-late May where everything went quiet – possibly effect of weather? possibly birds settling down to incubate?

Silver linings:

  • Experiments with drones promising but not conclusive
  • 6 adults ringed in breeding grounds using whoosh nets. One already resighted in winter quarters on Severn estuary
  • Slimbridge headstarted birds from 2019 (when 50 were released): one returned and nested successfully
  • 2 cases of breeding on estuarine salt marsh – unusual; most in hay meadows
  • Observations on cut hay meadows showed how close adults stay to chicks
  • Continuing study of floodplain meadow botany, often not directly related to Curlew nests, rather to wider landscape
  • Huge support from farming and landowning community

Phil Hitchen – Worcestershire

  • Monitored at 8 sites (some included in Severn and Avon Vales note above)
  • Confirmed successful breeding at one site, two potentially successful breeding sites
  • Attempts at breeding at 3 sites were not successful
  • 2 confirmed failed nests early on
  • Keen to do more next year
  • Work with landowners
  • Scope for work with headstarted birds in association with a bigger programme
  • Day-long dawn to dusk stakeouts – very useful in seeing what is going on throughout the day. Short visits tend to overlook important events. Efficient way of using time, takes 6 people 3 hours each for a day

Chris Robinson, Herefordshire

  • Started season with list of 24 likely sites, 1-2 had likelihood of more than one pair
  • 10 sites showed no real evidence of breeding, although 5 had Curlew presence early in season.
  • 2 of these sites had nesting attempts last year, one had fledged
  • 2 confirmed fledged young, 2-3 other sites where chicks may possibly have fledged
  • Nest losses, suspect mostly due to corvids
  • Electric fences on one nest, this nest got to hatching stage
  • Nest fencing could be counterproductive in this county as it attracts corvids, don’t think foxes are much of problem in this area
  • Lost 2-3 sites altogether
  • Improved nest finding, found 7 nests in total
  • Made egg measurements on 2 nests to estimate hatching date, but one predated
  • Good input from farming community with almost 100% cooperation
  • One totally new site, evidence of hatched young, had previously thought birds no longer there
  • Four birds colour-ringed: 3 early season adults and 1 young

Amanda Perkins, Curlew Country, Shropshire and mid-Wales (note submitted by email)

  • Head-starting operation continued this year, using eggs found locally
  • 32 chicks released so far; hope to release 2 more which have feather difficulties, which would give 34 this year and 94 in total over the headstarting years
  • Very limited resources to look for returning chicks beyond our key nesting season, but have found 7 across the years in the landscape
  • There seem to be many more obvious Curlews this year; farming partners and the local community are making similar reports – this is anecdotal evidence, not tested
  • Many more nests active for a much longer period of time.  These may have hit problems after the Countryside Stewardship watershed cutting date of 15 July, but some areas remain uncut, with Curlews deterring avian predators until very recently. It’s frustrating not to have the resources to investigate this more. The most likely factor contributing to this is a badger cull in our area, carried out by local predation controllers who may have been combining their duties – again no evidence for this. Weather may have been a contributory factor, but we are not aware that it was significantly different to other years.

Leo Smith, Shropshire (summary of results submitted by email and already posted on Curlewcall website)

  • Another disastrous season
  • Results available from three Community Wildlife Groups active in Upper Clun, Clee Hill and Strettons, which recorded 24-25 pairs, and found 16 nests
  • Results from seven other Community Wildlife Groups not yet available (probably 75 pairs), will report later
  • In the three areas reporting, 12 nests were fenced; fences effective, none of fenced nests were wholly predated
  • Only half the nests produced any chicks
  • Increasing evidence (see that the food supply provided by the release of Pheasants for recreational shooting supports unnaturally high levels of predators and scavengers,
    particularly foxes, which in turn limits the breeding success of Curlews

 Jonny Cooper, North Wiltshire

  • 5 pairs back, 2 didn’t nest
  • 3 failed nests
  • One bird colour-ringed
  • Next year want to ring more and refine catching technique
  • Looking at creating farming cluster, potential funding from DEFRA

Nick Tomalin, South Wiltshire

  • Conservation officer in New Forest, leaving role managing Stone Curlew work in Wiltshire. Roger Blackler will in future lead this group
  • Normally 6-8 pairs
  • 4-6 pairs on Salisbury Plain
  • 3 confirmed breeding
  • Two based on adult behaviour
  • Saw chicks in one brood (brood of 3, one fledged)
  • No fencing or nest visiting because of military activity
  • Very competent local birder said 4 fledged chicks, and saw 11 adults together

David Wilding, Otmoor (summary provided by email)

  • Successful season: 13 nests located and 3 chicks colour-flagged
  • The most exciting news is that we currently have a small flock of 9 fledged chicks flying around the Otmoor Basin; feels as though all adults have now gone, although the males did hang around for a short period.
  • In the last few years we have gone from 5 fledged in 2019 to 6 fledged in 2020, and 9 fledged in 2021.
  • We started nest protection in 2019, hopefully in the next couple of years we will start to see the population increase.

Mike Pollard, Banbury area

  • Unable to attend, but draws attention to the Upper Thames Curlew Recovery Project website, giving details of its work at has sent the following note on the Banbury area by email:
  • A minimum of six pairs plus one single.
  • Two nests were found, and both were protected with electric fencing early in incubation. One was successful and hatched three young, of which one fledged, the other one failed after a week due to a major flood event. No evidence that any of the other pairs hatched young.
  • Fledged juvenile was the first recorded in the Banbury area for many years.

Neil Bucknell, Berkshire (note submitted by email)

  • The three sites covered in 2019 were covered again – Aston Upthorpe/Lowbury Hill, RAF Welford and Upper Lambourn. Survey methods followed the guidelines laid down by Curlew Forum, with two visits in April followed by a further three between mid-May and July. Other reports (to BerksBirds and from surveyors for the Berkshire Farmland surveys) have provided further information.
  • It appears that there were just two territories held, one at Aston Upthorpe and one at Upper Lambourn. No evidence of either hatching or fledging of young.

Harry Ewing, Brecks

  • 70 nests found
  • 32 hatched nests
  • 25 chicks fledged
  • Followed every brood, lots of data on habitat use and how survival varies across habitats and vegetation structures; will be written up as part of PhD study

Elli Rivers, New Forest

  • Is doing PhD on chick survival
  • Targeted predator control
  • Only these areas fledged chicks
  • Last year these areas fledged no chicks
  • Need to analyse data on this
  • One fence
  • 46 occupied territories
  • 30 known nests
  • 20 predations
  • 13 hatched
  • 8 predated at chick stage
  • 10 chicks reach BTO fledging age
  • One road traffic accident
  • 2 broods no longer in New Forest, not sure if predated after fledging; (last year still chicks flying from Forest in August) so considering predation post fledge, but not sure
  • If BTO fledging age is used, tripled number of fledged chicks compared to last year
  • 18 nesting attempts recorded
  • 8 lost to foxes
  • 2 lost to corvid
  • 2 unknown avian predators
  • 3 nests interrupted by livestock
  • Paired control cameras to test whether cameras affect predator control, data to be analysed
  • In future hope to tag chicks with GPS, to understand post fledging survival
  • 2 more seasons of study

Item 2: Collation of Results in 2021

Phil Sheldrake

Code for breeding categories for Curlews:

  • Confirmed breeding
  • Possible
  • Non-breeding
  • Last meeting discussed adding a monitoring protocol and repository that can be used for all groups to submit their results.
  • This year invite people to submit results in headline figures e.g. total number pairs, nests, hatched nest, number young, number fledged.

Item 3: New methods for counting and estimating productivity   

Geoff Hilton, development in monitoring

  • At the previous meeting, Geoff Hilton had mentioned that a group of scientists from WWT, RSPB, BTO, Natural England were meeting to discuss Curlew monitoring and in particular:
    • Estimating number of territorial pairs
    • Estimating productivity of pairs
  • If everyone using same method, then data is comparable
  • Curlew recovery projects springing up all over the place, some need assistance on how to monitor
  • Existing published methods are not great for Curlews
    • O’Brien & Smith, Shepherd & Brown
    • Geared to more professional projects
  • What sort of monitoring scheme are we looking for?
    • Max data for minimum effort
    • Simple
    • Not needing expensive equipment
    • Repeatable, not highly dependent on observer
    • Works across different landscape types and different Curlew densities
    • Good way to estimate, not find exact number
  • Tweaks to existing published methods:
    • Estimate number of incubating pairs before incubating starts
    • First informal visit to gather preliminary data, second formal visit
    • Official methods say walk the site, we don’t think so, vantage points better
    • Productivity should be estimated by repeated short visits observing adult behaviour
  • An interim draft document summarizing these discussions had been produced and circulated before the present meeting under the title “Interim advice on new methods for counting and estimating productivity”.
  • What’s next?
    • Loads of practitioners out there who might want to adopt technique. Need to talk to people on the ground to see if new system works
    • Would be great to supply training e.g. videos of key behaviours, training days, data recording sheet
    • Test to see if it works on the ground
    • Would be great to have centralised hub where people can submit data & see previous data
  • Hoping CRP can drive this more
  • Hope to have it ready by next breeding season
  • Want to make it clear that it’s not ‘don’t do anything else’, but do other stuff too e.g. dawn to dusk stakeout

Item 4: Russell Wynn, Curlew Recovery Partnership (CRP) update

Regional workshops very successful, engaged with nearly 1000 people since started

  • Feedback from community, three key elements of triangle must be solved:
    • Habitat provision
    • Silage cutting
    • Predation
  • Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) offer a potential mechanism to address the latter two, which are the primary drivers of low productivity
  • The current draft prescription in ELMS for ground-nesting birds is not going to help Curlew or many other species
  • CRP has written to Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra
  • Keen to develop own programme, while also aware individual CRP member organizations have their own programmes
  • Key part = identifying priority sites to test monitoring & intervention methods
  • Subgroups on: Underpinning research; survey monitoring & training; how to influence agri-environment schemes; how to engage with public
  • CRP only given 1 year’s funding, which runs out next Spring. Needs help to identify longer-term funding
  • A few urgent task groups will commence work in September on:
    • How to mitigate silage cutting issues
    • Can we have non-lethal and lethal predator control in ELMS?
    • Survey monitoring and training
    • National coordination around headstarting
    • Lots of Curlew projects want help with nest fencing
    • Identification of priority PhD projects
  • Engagement with land managers outside steering group
  • Work programme will be available om 1 October

Item 5: Headstarting

 Headstarting in Norfolk, Sam Franks

  • Part of project led by Natural England; eggs collected from RAF airfields
  • 150 eggs collected, 40 went to Dartmoor
  • 55 chicks released West Norfolk
  • 20 chicks still to be released
  • Yellow flag marking scheme on chicks, site-specific colour mark
  • Radio-tagging of chicks, to look at habitat use,
  • Trial GPS tagging juveniles, 3 birds GPS tagged with harness
  • 2-3 confirmed mortality events from 55 released birds
  • Feather development issues probably due to overcrowding, diet, bad weather. Lacking pigmentation in some of their flight feathers and have poor quality feather development in those sections
  • Probably got funding from Natural England for next couple of years

Dartmoor headstarting, Jon Avon

  • Fledging rate high: 33 Curlew healthy chicks released
  • Monitoring fields used by young Curlews which initially went for stock fields, now homing in on hay crops
  • Hearing and seeing Curlew on Dartmoor in August is pretty much unknown of late
  • All tagged, getting lots of data

Item 6 Curlew Action

Mary Colwell, Curlew Action

  • Curlew Action has been established as a fund-raising charity
  • Doing really well
  • Broad and active group of ambassadors doing great work
  • Starting junior Curlew network
    • Network of primary schools across the UK learning about curlews
    • Pairing schools with schools across Europe, information exchange, trips
  • Focusing on fundraising for CRP


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