Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

A new project is underway in the Conwy Valley to help protect on of our most iconic and endangered birds here in Wales. On World Curlew Day (April 21), here’s a blog by Lucy Foster, Project Officer for the new Curlew LIFE project, to tell us more about it.

‘Lock down has had its challenges, but I can’t complain too much when I can hear curlew calling whilst I hang out the washing’.

It’s late March and curlews are starting to arrive back on the moors of the upper Conwy Valley. Speaking to the local farmers, there is a general buzz of excitement that the birds are back. This marks the start of the summer months in the uplands and hopefully time to say goodbye to the harsh winter storms.

The calls of curlews and lapwings can be heard across the moor as they start to set up nesting territories. To me, it sounds like the ‘whoops’ and ‘yeaahhhs’ of being back on their summer grounds. I’m certainly excited they are back around, and full of anticipation of what this season will bring.

As well as a genuine fondness for curlews, the farmers also relay stories of failed breeding, declines in numbers and concern for the future of curlew in upland Wales. The birds are part of their landscape and evoke childhood memories of when curlews were a common species and the moors were alive with activity. There is a genuine collective enthusiasm to do something to help this iconic bird. However, things aren’t looking good for curlews in Wales. Under the current trend, curlews could go extinct in Wales as breeding birds in the next 13 years.

How are curlews faring in Wales?

There are numerous challenges facing curlews in Wales. These include a decrease in suitable breeding habitat, changes in land use and farming practice and an increase generalist predators numbers. Further to these, the impacts of climate change and changes in invertebrate abundance (their main source of food) are factors that could have contribute to their decline, and these are not yet fully understood. Another big problem for curlews is chick survival. Currently across the UK, each pair only produce 0.31 chicks per year. To reach a healthy population, this needs to be 0.63 chicks.

(Caption: In order to reach a sustainable population, curlews need all the help they can get to successfully raise their chicks)

So what are we doing about it?

The Curlew LIFE Project commenced in early 2021, and I started as Welsh Project Officer in February. As well as walking around the uplands watching birds and talking to farmers, there is lots of important work to be done as Project Officer. Over the next few months, we will be undertaking bird surveys to identify the location of curlew territories. We’ll be monitoring these throughout the breeding season. The location and success of breeding will help us to determine where work is required over the autumn and winter.

We will also be undertaking a range of habitat management work, including the creation of bog pools and rush cutting to improve habitats. Additionally we are planning to install approximately 10 km of predator fencing each year around key breeding areas to protect chicks and hopefully increase that magic productivity number. Another element will be protection from predators as this is one of the main factors limiting productivity at curlew sites in Wales.

The main part of the project though, is to create strong relationships with landowners and enthusiasm for curlew conservation. The project is running for four years but we hope the legacy will live on through communities with the support of RSPB and our partners (Natural Resources Wales, Snowdonia National Park and National Trust).

I am really excited to be working on such an important project; and am hopeful that upland Wales will echo the calls of curlew for years to come.