As World Curlew Day approaches, Chris Collett from the RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme explains why these birds need our help.

This Sunday (21 April) is not only important because it’s Easter but also because it’s World Curlew Day.

Curlew on the moors (c) Tim Melling

Curlews are in trouble across the globe with some species now believed to be extinct. There hasn’t been a confirmed sighting of either an Eskimo curlew or a slender billed curlew for several years, and conservationists now fear they have been lost forever.

In the UK, our own native curlew species – the Eurasian curlew - is also under threat. They’ve drastic declined in the past few decades due to habitat loss and an increase in predators. In fact, the situation is so grave, they could soon vanish from parts of the UK including Northern Ireland and Wales. As around a quarter of the world population live on our shores, this is seriously bad news.

Of all the sights and sounds of nature the call of the curlew stands out as one of the most evocative and soul stirring. The male’s summer flight call – a bubbling “curloooo-aloo-aloo” - has long provided inspiration for poets.  Late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes described it as a “wobbling water call”, while W S Graham called it a ‘love-weep’. More recently, AW Bullen wrote rather grandly that:

Such trifling themes as life and death
Are kept in Curlew’s calls.”

You can listen the call here, although a recording can’t quite match the experience of hearing a real curlew as it flies overhead across a damp misty moor.

Curlew in flight (c) Tim Melling

Saving the curlew is a massive undertaking and it’s not something the RSPB can do alone. This is why we are working in partnership with a range of organisations across the UK to reverse the bird’s fortunes. For example, in Northern England we are working with the Northumberland National Park, the North Pennines AONB and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, as part of the Northern Upland Chain Partnership to improve the conservation prospects for curlew over this critical area.

In Scotland we sit on Working for Waders which brings together a range of organisations and people to raise awareness and to show how wader declines, including curlew, can be reversed. In Wales we are part of ‘Gylfinir Cymru’ and in Northern Ireland we are setting up the Glenwherry Curlew Initiative.

Over the course of this week we’ll be hearing from some of the people who are involved in this partnership working to ensure that we hear the call of the curlew for generations to come.

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