For this year’s World Curlew Day, Thursday 21st April 2022, amongst the enjoyment of this beautiful yet gravely threatened bird, comes an update on the ambitious conservation delivery project, Curlews in crisis (Curlew LIFE). The project is approaching its halfway point and it’s been a challenging but rewarding year with glimmers of hope and more activity to come before the project draws to a close at the end of  2024.

Glimmers of hope: Curlew Chicks at The Antrim Plateau where productivity estimates were 0.72 in 2021 © Katie Gibb

Practical Conservation: what actions have been taken?

Curlews need open habitats where they can see potential threats to their chick’s survival, so site teams in all four UK countries work with local farmers, landowners and communities to raise awareness and carry out habitat improvement work for breeding curlew. For example, rush and scrub removal is a key activity in known breeding grounds, aiming to open out the landscape.

Curlew chicks also need easy access to food like aquatic insects and creating open pools or “scrapes” is essential to provide easily accessible food. Find out more here about the practical conservation tools for habitat improvement for curlews. You can also watch this webinar where Christina Taylor and the RSPB Geltsdale and Hadrian’s Wall site team, together with Northumberland National Park colleagues, present and discuss how they are creating curlew friendly landscapes in England.

If you’re in Scotland, you can visit RSPB Insh Marshes which is home to the highest density of curlew in Scotland. Visit Thijs Claes on Tuesday mornings throughout the summer at Curious Curlew Mornings to find out more about the actions there.

Practical action: Rush removal (left) and Scrape creation (right) are two key conservation actions for enhancing habitat for breeding curlew at The Antrim Plateau (pictured) and across all the ‘Curlews in crisis’ project sites. Photos: ©Neal Warnock

A key challenge curlew parents face is predation, and whilst habitat improvement offers some protection this is likely not sufficient given the severity of the curlew decline. Another tool in the conservation toolbox is anti-predator fencing which may be in the form of temporary nest protection or whole field fencing.

In Northern Ireland, where curlew declines have been the steepest, temporary nest protection fencing has shown promise with the 2021 breeding season appearing to be a successful one. Temporary nest protection fencing involves locating the nest and then, whilst ensuring disturbance is kept to a minimum, putting up 25m x 25m electrified wire fencing around the nest to exclude ground predators and protect chicks.

In Conwy, North Wales, Lucy Foster and her team have whole field parcel fencing in place to exclude predators and offer this protection to the curlews.

Temporary nest protection fencing at the Antrim Plateau (left) and whole field fencing at Ysbyty Ifan, Conwy (right) provide protection from ground predators for breeding curlew. Photos: ©Neal Warnock and Becca Stewart

Conservation Science: measuring productivity

During the 2021 field season, there were some encouraging results from the monitoring efforts carried out by the team. For example, in the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland Katie Gibb and her team of Monitoring Officers recorded a productivity estimate of 0.72 chicks per pair per year.

Read on if you wonder, “how do you get 0.72 of a chick?”. Curlews lay approximately four eggs in a brood and to reach a productivity of 0.55, more than one chick every two years must fledge to maintain the population. This, sadly, does not happen in most areas due to various reasons but among the strongest threats to survival is predation. For more information about this metric and how it’s calculated click here.

Curlews in Crisis: What’s next?

As this post goes out, pairs of Curlew are settling down to a typically tough breeding season 2022 and some may already have eggs and even chicks. Whilst the curlew parents keep track of their precocial chicks and face the challenges that brings, Curlews in crisis site teams of Monitoring Officers, students as well as volunteers carry out surveys keeping track of the families and territories, seeking an increase in productivity.

In autumn 2022, curlews can expect more fencing and habitat improvements as the project enters its second half and we review the results of 2022 and make plans for 2023. Here’s to a Happy and hopeful World Curlew Day until next year’s update.

Curlew family at Roscor, Lower Lough Erne, Northern Ireland where 2021 was one of the most successful seasons on the reserve © Amy Burns

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