Helping save Welsh curlews

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

As we approach World Curlew Day on 21 April, we shine a light on the curlew’s devastating plight in Wales and what is happening to improve their situation.

The curlew’s bubbling call was once the sound of Welsh wilderness. Iconic birds of evocative Wales – our estuaries, moorland and coasts are not the same without them. They’ve inspired poets such as Dylan Thomas and R. Williams Parry. However, we now believe that Wales has less than 400 breeding pairs left. Since the early 1990s, we’ve lost around 80% of our native curlew population. A once widespread, thought to be permanent fixture of Wales, is quickly becoming extinct.

Curlews are now the most pressing bird conservation priority throughout the UK and an International Action Plan has been put in place across Europe to try to save these wonderful waders before it’s too late. To help arrest the curlew’s dramatic decline, a lot of work is going on across Wales to save the curlew before it becomes too late.

There’s hope in Llanycil

RSPB Cymru recently had some good news for curlews in Llanycil, by Y Bala. Having worked in partnership with local landowners and Natural Resources Wales, RSPB Cymru saw an increase of two pairs of curlews on the land, and it was extremely comforting to see one pair fledging two chicks. Work carried out here included cutting four hectares of thick vegetation and installing electric fencing. Eight ponies were also put there to graze because ponies can create the perfect conditions for curlews, by breaking up dense vegetation. RSPB Cymru staff, in partnership with Snowdonia National Park Authority, will go ahead and remove conifer trees from the area in the coming months to further help Llanycil’s curlews.

Re-wetting peat bogs

Upland peat bogs are extremely important habitat, but most of us are very unfamiliar with them. Unfortunately, these are also becoming rarer, but they have huge benefits for us people because they provide us with clean water, capture carbon which helps in the fight against climate change and stop floods on lower grounds, and are important for a wide variety of wildlife – including curlews. RSPB Cymru staff in the Blaen y Coed area of Ysbyty Ifan have been carrying out experimental work to help restore peat bogs on two pieces of land owned by the National Trust. We used diggers to improve the peat bogs’ conditions, whilst also installing dams in ditches and gullies to hold water onto the hills and reduce flood risk downstream. The work undertaken will create wetter peat bogs, that will help attract more invertebrates such as crane flies, which curlews rely upon to feed themselves and their chicks.

New policies for a better future

 If curlews are to stand a fighting chance, farmers need to be given the correct support to help them manage the habitats they rely upon. We are currently campaigning for the development of new farming and land management policies in Wales to replace the Common Agriculture Policy when we leave the EU. This includes new schemes that encourage and pay farmers to work together to restore and maintain habitats for nature, including curlews that breed on their land, at the appropriate scale.

As it stands, more than 80% of farming income in Wales originates from EU funding. A new system of support for Wales is an opportunity to secure the sustainable land management needed for curlew and other declining species of farmland birds to thrive once again.

Gylfinir Cymru

Welsh breeding curlews have been offered a timely boost as 16 organisations* from around Wales recently teamed up to create a new working group called Gylfinir Cymru. The organisations involved represent sectors of government, conservation, farming and game management. They have come together because they have a shared passion and determination to secure the future of curlew as a breeding bird in Wales. They will aim to provide leadership and support along with delivering direct action for curlew to halt and reverse their dramatic decline.

The future

We believe that curlews are one of Wales’ most iconic birds and we’re hoping that one day, most of us will be more familiar with their haunting bubbling call. Curlews need all the help they can get, from politicians to famers, from conservationists to raising awareness of their plight to society, if we are to truly reverse their heart-breaking decline.

*The organisations involved in Gyfinir Cymru are Natural Resources Wales, RSPB Cymru, BTO Cymru, Countryside Alliance, GWCT, BASC, Snowdonia National Park Authority, Welsh Ornithological Society, Welsh Government, AONBs, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts Wales, North Wales Wildlife Trust, National Gamekeepers Association, COFNOD, FUW and NFU Cymru.

Image credits in order they appear: Eleanor Bentall and Andy Hay.