By Samantha Lee, RSPB Senior Project Manager for Curlews in Crisis

Today, April 21st, is World Curlew Day and this year amongst the curlew conversations and celebrations of this charismatic bird we’re launching our ambitious new project – Curlews in Crisis (aka Curlew LIFE).

This is a £3.68 million project supported by the LIFE Programme of the European Union as well as in-country funding partners including Natural Resources Wales, The DEFRA Green Recovery Challenge Fund, Fellfoot forward Landscape Partnership Scheme, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The evocative call of the curlew has been a feature of the UK soundscape signalling spring in many upland areas © Gavin Thomas

Over the next four years (until the end of 2024), this project will deliver conservation action for curlew in five priority landscapes across the UK, aiming to halt curlew declines within these ‘hotspots’. It’s still early days in the project but it’s already been an incredibly busy year and project officers are out ‘as I type’ undertaking the first year of monitoring efforts.

Curlew numbers in the UK have almost halved since the mid 1990s, and they were one of nineteen species which were red-listed for the first time in the 2015 Birds of Conservation Concern 4. However, curlew declines have not been equal across the UK countries and in Northern Ireland and Wales the situation is now so severe that we estimate that we have less than two decades to reverse the situation before the species is lost as a breeding bird within these two countries.

In Northern Ireland, there are maybe as few as only 250 pairs left. The project will focus on implementing emergency intervention measures in these two countries as well as develop ‘centres of excellence’ for curlew conservation with our sites in England and Scotland.

Project Sites

Map of indicative project site areas. Click here for more information on individual project sites

The Curlews in Crisis project has selected five landscapes within which we can have the greatest impact on the Curlew populations:

In Northern Ireland, we’ll be focussing efforts in two project sites; the Antrim Plateau and Erne lowlands. Between these sites the project will support nearly half of the Northern Ireland breeding population of curlew.

The Wales project area is just over 7,000ha and supports up to 10% of the Welsh breeding population. We’ll be working with land managers and communities across this landscape to improve breeding conditions across the Conwy county.

Our northern England site, Geltsdale and Hadrian’s Wall includes the RSPB Geltsdale reserve as well as the Hadrian’s Wall corridor. This is one of the most important areas for breeding sites for curlew in England. for breeding curlew.

In Scotland efforts will be focussed at RSPB Insh marshes where a high density of breeding curlew makes it one of the most important breeding sites for the species on the Scotland mainland.

What’s happening within project areas

 The project will include the annual monitoring of curlew breeding success. This will be done through the close observation of nests and in future years through tagging of individuals to help us monitor chick survival © Gavin Thomas

Within each of the project areas we’ll be delivering a range of activities including direct habitat management to increase the quality and quantity of suitable curlew breeding habitat, reducing predation pressure (through a combination of lethal and non-lethal measures) to improve breeding success, annual monitoring to evaluate curlew responses to our intervention measures as well as to inform future landscape management by carrying out habitat condition assessments which will highlight where we should prioritise our work.

We’ll also be raising awareness of curlew issues and needs, working within local communities to deliver engagement activities such as walks, talks and demonstration events (as well as some more creative methods-watch this space!) helping to garner a sense of pride around the species and its associated habitats and to secure it’s future for the long-term.

Anti-predator fencing will be used to protect individual nests in our Northern Ireland project sites © David Wilding

Working with various other curlew enthusiasts and stakeholders, we’ll share best practice conservation approaches and develop case studies to support our advocacy work and to get commitment for curlew conservation from policy makers.

Long-term

It’s already been a busy few months on the project and we are only just at the beginning, but it’s already time to start to think about what happens when the project comes to an end to ensure the species survival long-term. A key part of this work will be ensuring that curlew habitat management measures are included in future agri-environment schemes as well as other wider landscape policy schemes.

In collaboration with statutory agencies and other key stakeholders, we’ll develop an all-UK Species Action Plan for curlew which will identify additional priority areas for curlew conservation as well as recovery targets for these areas, the activities required and the role of stakeholders to help support the implementation of the plan.

For more information about the curlew in crisis project, visit our project website. This project is part of the RSPBs wider recovery work for curlew, to find out how you can help or to learn more about the recovery programme.

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