The first face-to-face meeting of the Curlew Forum since COVID was held at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), Slimbridge on 24 November. Curlew Forum’s thanks go to WWT for providing the venue and hospitality in congenial surroundings.
The Steering Group had wondered beforehand whether there really was still a need to continue operating the Curlew Forum, given the number of other bodies now dealing with Curlews (notably the Curlew Partnership – CRP). But the meeting, attended by about 50 people in person and another ten online, was a triumphant affirmation that members are keen to continue the collaborative exchanges on the dwindling local populations of breeding Curlews in lowland England, and that they value the opportunity to get together and compare experiences and findings; perhaps these personal exchanges are indeed the most valuable element of the meeting. The Steering Group will hence continue to act as requested by the meeting, and will in particular aim to reanimate the Newsletter and this website.
A detailed account of the meeting is in preparation, and will be circulated in the very near future, and it is hoped to post presentations made at the meeting on the website. This note aims to give a succinct overview of the event. The highlights were:
- A presentation by Mary Colwell and Russ Wynn from the CRP noting that there are now probably only 500 surviving pairs of breeding Curlews in southern England and Ireland; they reported on CRP contacts with a wide range of interested parties but noted that, as yet, contacts with Defra had been limited and that little progress had been made.
- Richard Saunders of Natural England encouraged participants by his very positive support for work to conserve lowland Curlews, his recognition that they were a cause worth fighting for, and his indication that funding would be available.
- Helmut Kruckenberg spoke of work on breeding Curlews in northwest Germany (an important population whose winter quarters had hitherto been poorly known) using both head-starting and satellite tags; the studies had been provoked by illegal shooting of Curlews migrating through France. The results showed the value of links with Curlew workers from outside our immediate area; the Forum is very grateful to him for taking the trouble to join the meeting in person, and hope that these exchanges may continue and intensify; the number of satellite tags he is able to deploy was a revelation to particpants.
- Geoff Hilton (WWT) and Paul Noyes (BTO) gave an insight into their thinking on a unified monitoring system.
- Natural Apptitude has offered to help develop a special app for collecting information on Curlews: Joe Woodhouse and his colleagues are keen to receive comments on the content of the app.
- After these broader general presentations, Eric Heath of WWT presented an update on the latest situation on head-starting in UK.
- Phil Sheldrake (Curlew Forum) presented his traditional overview of the numbers of Curlews present in the lowlands in the preceding breeding season; he noted that the figures so far received (and his full report will be available later) fitted well with the figure of 500 breeding pairs in the lowlands.
- Each group then reported on the situation in their patch in 2022, with a general feeling, once again, that only small numbers of chicks fledged, despite relatively favourable weather conditions in 2022.
- Kane Brides (WWT) spoke on the use of drones to find nests in the Severn and Avon Vales – probably not as effective as old-fashioned fieldcraft.
- Mike Pollard (Banbury Ornithological Society) presented a detailed vision of the season in the Upper Thames.
- Leo Smith (Shropshire Ornithological Society) spoke of the relatively large Shropshire Curlew population, emphasizing the negative effect of releasing large numbers of pheasants for shooting, and hence providing food for predators.
- Sam Franks (BTO) reported on Harry Ewing’s success in nest finding in Breckland.
- Elli Rivers gave details of the Curlew situation in the New Forest, where much work has been done on the impact of predators; Mike Short of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust underlined the need for Curlew researchers to work closely with predation scientists and thus to learn more about scientific investigations of the impact of predation.
- Craig Ralston of Natural England manages the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve in Yorkshire (perhaps slightly outside the “English lowlands” though ecological conditions are similar) and reported on his interventions in management of Curlew breeding areas on a large scale.
- And finally, Juliet Bailey, as a Curlew botanist, recalled the importance of looking closely at the botanical status of Curlew nesting areas.
Curlew Forum Steering Group
28 November 2022