Curlew Forum Newsletter 1, 30 April 2017

Female on West Sedgemoor, Somerset, 26 April 2017 (Richard Archer)


At the “Call of the Curlew” workshop, held on World Wetlands Day, 2 February 2017, at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, it was agreed to establish a Curlew Forum as a means of communication between the many participants in the workshop, and all those interested in breeding Curlews in southern England.  At a recent follow-up meeting in Slimbridge between Mary Colwell (Curlew Media), Geoff Hilton (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), Phil Sheldrake (RSPB) and Mike Smart (Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) – who make up an informal steering committee – it was agreed that three Newsletters should be circulated during the 2017 breeding season: the first in late April giving details of plans for the current season; the second in June to give a progress report on what was happening on the ground; and a third one in late August to report on how the season had progressed.  These three newsletters would provide the basic information for planning a follow-up workshop, at a date to be determined in winter 2017/18.  The Newsletters will take the form of reports from each of the main lowland regions where Curlews still breed, and the following were nominated to provide Mike Smart (who acts as coordinator) with information about their region (the order is roughly southwest to northeast):

  • Cornwall: Claire Mucklow (RSPB)
  • Dartmoor: Jon Avon
  • Somerset Levels: Richard Archer (RSPB)
  • Severn and Avon Vales: Mike Smart (Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust)
  • Herefordshire: Chris Robinson (BTO)
  • Shropshire: Amanda Perkins (Stiperstones Project)
  • Oxfordshire and Upper Thames: Kirsty Brannan (RSPB)
  • North Wiltshire: Neil Pullen (Wilts Wildlife Trust)
  • Salisbury Plain: Phil Sheldrake (RSPB)
  • New Forest: Russ Wynn (Southampton University)

Geoff Hilton will be the Forum representative on the UK and Ireland Curlew Action Group, thus ensuring that the voice of Curlews breeding in southern England is heard in that august assembly.

Any observations on Curlews you would like to share with other Forum members, any comments on the present newsletter, any contributions to the next one, and any offers to provide information for other areas will be welcomed by Mike Smart (please note new email):


There are possibly one or two pairs on Bodmin Moor. Trying to pin down where their territory may be, as they are moving around.  No activity planned other than finding them at the moment.

Claire Mucklow:


The Curlews have moved closer to Haytor over the past three seasons.  They were originally further down the valley at Bagtor but after several losses they relocated. This pattern of relocation occurs every three years!  If successful they return to the same nest site (within meters of the previous year’s nest).

We had two chicks last year at Haytor from the first clutch – but one disappeared after three weeks; the other fledged the first week of July.

The fourth male Curlew at Blackslade Mire appeared on 11 April, after the full moon so now we have three males and one pair.

Jon Avon:

Somerset Levels

  • Annual breeding wader survey, including all the Curlew moors. Starts mid-April.
  • Continued work with Natural England on King’s Sedgemoor National Nature Reserve, mainly for Snipe and Curlew. Ongoing monitoring of last year’s capital works (foot drains mainly) and breeding wader response.
  • Survey of non-traditional sites for Curlew – following reports last year of a small population near Chedzoy.
  • Annual lowland wet grassland maintenance programme on West Sedgemoor and Greylake RSPB reserves.
  • West Sedgemoor Curlew breeding productivity project – year 1 (hopefully there will be more). Mainly Richard Archer (on sabbatical) and Leah Kelly, an MRes student from Leeds University, plus our local ringing volunteer, Alison Morgan (a real star).

Richard Archer:

Severn and Avon Vales

  • Talk on Curlews given by Mike Smart to the Worcestershire Recorders’ Conference at Worcs Wildlife Trust HQ on 11 March. Several volunteers came forward to join this year’s breeding survey.
  • A Curlew breeding survey is being carried out in 2017 along the Severn and Avon vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, as a repeat of the 2016 survey.
  • The 2017 survey is being carried out by a small team of experienced volunteers, visiting sites identified in previous years, and aiming to get better data: particularly on the exact fields where nests are situated (recognising the extreme site fidelity of the species), and on nesting success.
  • Further information from Worcestershire has identified a number of traditional sites, away from the river valleys in more upland sites, where a small number of nesting Curlews seem to have survived; these birds will as far as possible be surveyed this year as well.
  • Natural England in South Mercia has appointed members of the Curlew survey team as NE volunteers, which means that their mileage costs during the survey can be reimbursed.
  • This year’s survey has so far recorded Curlews returning to the usual meadows since late February; during March, paired birds occupied territory, generally simply walking round their territory together, in an undemonstrative manner, often not even singing or calling; as the grass has grown longer it has become more and more difficult to find them. The only way to find them is often to spend a long time scanning the field with a telescope from a distance.  The survey team has been looking at the botany of nesting fields, to study the suggestion that many Curlews are nesting in herb-rich, traditionally farmed meadows.  Rather surprisingly, a nest with a full clutch was found on 19 April, which seems a very early date for a full clutch (is this a particularly early year?); the farmer says that the field will be managed as a hay meadow, with a late cut.
  • Some historic data on Curlew nesting in both counties in the 1950s has been found; thanks to Harry Green of Worcs Wildlife Trust, and to Nick Christian, who has checked his father’s historic records.
  • At one nesting meadow at Ashleworth Ham SSSI, a ditch was cleaned out by the Internal Drainage Board in early March; the IDB planned to return to erect a fence along the ditch, but after consulting the survey team and Natural England, they agreed that the new fence could wait until the breeding season was over in July; the farmers agreed with this decision too.
  • One Worcestershire farmer along the Avon has ear-marked two of his fields for ground-nesting birds, and says that, like last year, he does not plan to cut hay there until the Curlews have completed nesting.
  • Several farmers in the Carrant Catchment Facilitation Fund project have asked for surveys of nesting Curlews to be carried out on their land.
  • The Environment Agency is carrying out repairs to the Abbey Mill sluice on the Mill Avon, which adjoins the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury, and is keen to ensure that these works do not disturb nesting Curlews on the Ham nearby. The EA is contracting members of the survey team to monitor Curlews on the Ham during these works; with the crane in full operation a pair of Curlews was seen mating less than 300 metres away.  As part of this operation the EA and the Tewkesbury Town Council have erected signs pointing out the richness of the flora and fauna of the Ham, and calling on joggers and dog walkers to use the Ham responsibly.
  • Following contacts made by Worcs Wildlife Trust with Upton Town Council, it is planned to give similar publicity to Curlews on Upton Ham, just up the Severn from Tewkesbury; this was mentioned at the Annual Town Meeting, with the Mayor in the Chair on 25 April.
  • It’s a real pleasure to acknowledge that public bodies like EA and NE, local authorities like Tewkesbury and Upton Town Councils, as well as local farmers are consulting the survey team and acting on their recommendations.
  • BBC’s “Countryfile” programme on Sunday 7 May is featuring the River Severn; as part of this programme, some filming has been done at the Gloucester Wildlife Trust’s Coombe Hill reserve, including an interview with MS about breeding Curlews in southern England.
  • BBC Gloucestershire is interested in the possibility of a follow-up programme about Curlews in the South West.

Mike Smart:


Our main objective has been to establish where in the county we still have breeding Curlews and (if possible) discover nest outcomes.  We lack the expertise and resources to monitor or protect nest sites in more sophisticated detail but we do hope to work with landowners to minimise disturbance.

Work so far:

  1. A list of sites which have had potential breeding birds reported in 2015 and/or 2016 has been drawn up. Any additional sites which had confirmed breeding during the last 5 years were also added.  This exercise revealed just how sparse and limited our information was!  Many sites have only one, maybe two, records per year, nearly always from March or April with no later data which might indicate breeding attempts.  Many Herefordshire records relate to the two gravel pit sites which attract passage Curlews but are definitely not breeding sites.  Further difficulty arose with older (pre-2015) records as the location was then defined by the observer rather than as a 4-figure grid ref which is the current method.  Although accuracy is thereby improved, even at 1km resolution a degree of interpretation is still required as to which square the bird was in, especially as Curlew are quite mobile and audible at some distance!  As a result, most of our “sites” are, in reality, two or more 1km squares in which Curlew have been seen, heard or bred in the last two years.
  2. All 2017 reports of Curlew on BirdTrack or the HOC sightings pages were also scrutinised and added to the list where appropriate.
  3. This resulted in a list of 16 “sites” which we considered worth checking.
  4. A small team of surveyors has been recruited to take on one or more of these sites to establish firstly if Curlew have returned (if not already known) and to make regular visits thereafter to assess status and try to locate their potential breeding area. Because of the potentially large area to be covered on most sites we have not adopted the more rigorous ‘Birds Waders of Wet Meadows’ methodology.  Our experiences to date have demonstrated how little any of us know about the habits of Curlew!  As of 22nd April, apart from birds on the Lower Lugg Meadows none of the sightings/hearings have enabled us to pinpoint possible breeding sites – birds seem to be still moving about (perhaps unpaired in some cases?) and, to make it more difficult for us, calling or flying only very infrequently!
  5. Our surveys so far have located 11, possibly 12, sites holding Curlews. Only one (Lower Lugg Meadows) definitely has more than one pair, although discussion with the landowner at Sink Green suggests that this site is (or has been) much more productive than HOC records might suggest.
  6. We have been working with Herefordshire Nature Trust on the Upper Lugg Meadows and Hampton Meadows reserves and they/we have erected signs at both sites asking dog walkers to keep to footpaths and dogs on leads. We have extended this idea and gained the permission of the landowner at Sink Green to put up similar notices there. It remains to be seen how effective these will be.  HWT believe that dog walkers are the main problem on Upper Lugg Meadows, although the Lower Lugg reserve is not accessible to the public so should be better protected (only corvids and foxes to worry about then!)

Chris Robinson:


  1. Focus on producing more chicks
  • Close up camera work not needed, but close observation still ongoing
  • More fencing to be used and different types to be trialled
  • Fox control being trialled
  • License to incubate eggs applied for
  1. Gaining information to inform future interventions
  • Colour ringing – Tony Cross has now colour ringed over 100 birds
  • We have applied for and received a license to attach 4 GPS tags to adult birds from the area to get better information on their behaviour outside the nest.  Waderquest have made a contribution to their purchase.
  • Farm business analysis continuing
  1. Training, awareness raising and fundraising
  • A training film on Curlew observation is being produced in collaboration with the BTO.
  • Arts projects
  • Curlew Conversations – this is a reminiscences project to record farmers’ memories of waders in case we lose them altogether, but is also a way of prompting farmers to remember what has changed in term of farming practice over the years that waders have been in decline.
  • A Case for Curlews – An all age orientated arts activity that will literally produce a case full of items connected to curlews that can then be used for future arts initiatives
  • Nest finding training
  1. Legacy
  • The Landscape Partnership Scheme finishes in March 2018.  A new host and funding provision needs to be found to underpin the scheme for the future.  The Curlew Country project is talking with a number of partners in this respect.

Amanda Perkins:

Oxfordshire and Upper Thames

  • The RSPB Midlands team will be running a second year of its Upper Thames Curlew project, to improve our understanding of local productivity and landscape use. This project also complements 12 years of broader annual breeding wader surveys and conservation work in the same area.
  • This spring, all 25 key Curlew sites will be covered by weekly surveys recording Curlew presence, location and behaviour and/or a standardised wader survey (i.e. four visits, recording specific species, location, behaviour and habitat condition). An expanded team of volunteer surveyors has been recruited and set up to make this high level of coverage possible, and all the landowners involved have granted access.
  • When nesting begins, licensed staff will be using survey returns immediately to locate nests, position temperature loggers and record habitat information. Once the nesting attempt is finished, the temperature logger data will be retrieved, and additional habitat measurements taken.
  • At the time of writing, most traditional Curlew territories in the area have been reoccupied since late February, although birds on the River Cherwell were noticeably later to return than those on the Thames. Egg laying does not appear to have begun yet (last year the earliest egg was around 27 April), however conditions are drying up rapidly.

Kirsty Brannan: / @Vanellus26

Salisbury Plain

  • Repeat of 2016 survey of Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge World Heritage Site
  • As of 10 April 3 pairs plus a single recorded
  • On Salisbury Plain – liaise with MoD and tenant farmers re possible protection intervention i.e. cutting dates
  • Possibility for electric fencing nest(s) on private land within WHS

Philip Sheldrake:

North Wiltshire

A list has been compiled of sites where Curlew have been confirmed breeding or suspected breeding since the 1980s, in North Wilts, above Chippenham and not including the Cotswold Water Park (although there is some overlap).

First some good news: Curlews have been seen regularly at Blakehill and I heard them yesterday from my house.  Simon Tucker has also reported sightings for close to Purton. This is already a significant improvement on last year.  But where possible it would be good to drill down deeper and try to determine exact fields or parts of fields, nests may be in.

I have deleted names of farms/landowners in the list, but have a separate list. Please contact me if you need to sort out permissions.  I am sure there are one thousand and one data protection breaches that I am falling foul of, so please – Information should be treated as confidential and not passed widely without permission.

There appear to be possibly four main groups:

  • One focussed on the Highworth/Hannington area
  • A Central Braydon Forest Group
  • A group near Purton
  • A group of records from Brinkworth to Chippenham. The table shows location info both as a grid reference and Northing/Easting. Using the programme Grid Reference Finder, the grid references in column 1 can be copied and pasted into the batch converter (details from the following link) to produce a map that can be expanded/contracted to show all of the sites.     Hopefully being clustered, several sites will be close to one another.

I have also attached the Methodology that Mike Smart has developed and adapted for Gloucestershire.

I am also working on a Facebook site more details (North Wilts Curlews) details to follow.

Neil Pullen:

New Forest

We have now (late March) published our 2016 New Forest Curlew survey results online, and they are available on the Wild New Forest website at:

We had our first returning birds arrive on territory this year between 5-10 March, and numbers are steadily increasing each week.  We have been discussing the comparatively late arrival of New Forest birds compared to those elsewhere in southern England, and think that the relatively nutrient-poor wet heath and mire habitats of the New Forest, together with the close proximity of excellent feeding in the Solent, discourages birds from arriving early on territory. We have some anecdotal evidence of flocks occupying coastal and river valley sites on the margins of the New Forest, with individuals / pairs sporadically leaving these flocks to fly to the open forest before returning, possibly suggesting they are occasionally prospecting their territory prior to actually occupying it.

We are currently gearing up for intensive fieldwork in the coming breeding season, and are finishing recruitment of our volunteer observers and obtaining all the relevant permissions for ringing and deployment of nest temperature loggers.  A busy few weeks ahead!

A few bullet points by way of an April update from the New Forest:

  • We issued a press release through the New Forest National Park Authority highlighting the results of our 2016 survey work, especially the dramatic decline in the New Forest breeding population to just 40 pairs. The story featured on regional BBC online/radio and in the local papers (see appended links).
  • The press release highlighted the role of the public in reducing recreational disturbance, and this has been further reinforced by the tighter wording (regarding people and their dogs keeping to paths) on signs in the New Forest issued by the Forestry Commission this season.
  • We have again assembled a survey team of 15 volunteer observers, supported by records from birders and the general public, who are mapping all Curlew territories and other ground-nesting wader across the New Forest. The team have currently located about 40 territories, which is the same as in 2016.
  • We are now awaiting the first New Forest Curlew nests being found, and are aiming to deploy nest temperature loggers at up to 25 nests this season. We also have plans to GPS tag a small number of birds, and potentially undertake colour ringing, but these activities are dependent upon funding and the required permissions and licenses being in place (so may be postponed to 2018).

Russ Wynn:


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