World Curlew Day - A little less conversation and a lot more action for Curlew please


April 21st is the first ever World Curlew Day so we are delighted to share with you a blog from Caroline Marshall, Programme Manager for the ‘Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity’ project about the work they are doing to restore peat bogs which will benefit curlew.

To put the urgency of this action into context, there are eight species of curlew worldwide and shockingly two are likely to be extinct. The Eskimo and the Slender-Billed have not been seen for decades. Out of the remaining six species, three - the Eurasian, the Bristle-thighed and the Far Eastern - are at risk of extinction according to the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species. It is no exaggeration to say that many parts of the earth will lose curlews over the next few decades.

At the UK level a UK and Ireland Curlew Action Group has been set up to bring the plight of the curlew to the fore in the minds of key policy makers and budget holders. In May, the RSPB are running a #curlewcrisis month to raise awareness about the plight and build support for curlews.  In addition to doing as much as we can on social media to inspire people to act, there’ll be curlew events across the four countries. In England “Curlew Calling”, an evening of music and poetry, will be held at Hallbankgate Village Hall next to our Geltsdale reserve. There’ll be a “Curlew Cruise” around the Lower Lough Erne islands in Northern Ireland. In Wales, we‘ll be joining curlew champion Mary Colwell at the Hay International Book Festival to talk about her new book “Curlew Moon”. A “whaap” (curlew) night will be held on Shetland, with two bands scheduled to play. We will continue to team up with Shetland Chocolatier, Mirrie Dancers, who have produced some delicious dark chocolate curlew eggs for sale. They’re palm oil and soya lecithin free, making them the perfect gift. These can be purchased from their website and £1.49 from each purchase will go directly to curlew conservation. What better way to support the cause!

You can order the eggs here:

Closer to home in Northern Ireland, on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland, things are beginning to happen on the ground – on our blanket bogs to be precise.

In early 2017, RSPB received funding from the INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, to improve the prospects and habitat of some of our most degraded blanket bogs.  The project is called ‘Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity’ (CABB) and was officially launched on 11th December 2017.  In total, CABB will direct €4.9m to deliver habitat restoration works on blanket bog and at breeding wader sites.  These works will benefit breeding curlews on several of the sites we are targeting.  CABB will also develop Conservation Action Plans (CAPs) for key curlew sites and will deli

Launch of the CABB project – Gina McIntyre SEUPB, Dymphna Gallagher NI Water, Clive Mellon RSPB NI Committee.

CABB is a transnational project operating over three countries with six project partners.  RSPB NI is the lead partner and is working closely with BirdWatch Ireland, Butterfly Conservation, RSPB Scotland, Moors for the Future and Northern Ireland Water.

The vast majority of CABB’s physical work will be delivered on blanket bogs and it is anticipated that the works will improve the quality of habitat for our breeding curlews relatively quickly, but as a species, curlews can be slow to build numbers.  As well as the improved habitat conditions available for curlews delivered by CABB, physical works on blanket bogs will deliver many other ecosystem services, including water storage, flood alleviation, improved water quality, carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation, improved habitat for hen harrier and golden plover and improved aesthetics for recreational visitors.

In January and February this year, following advice from Moors for the Future, NI Water started drain-blocking work on blanket bog at Garron Plateau, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland.  By March 2019, 444ha of blanket bog will be in improving condition as a result of this work.  CABB’s Garron Project Officer has been directing operations on this land, owned by Northern Ireland Water, and is also gathering information for the Garron Conservation Action Plan (CAP), covering the whole of the 4652ha SAC, to be published in 2020.  Records show that curlews have bred on the Garron, but there are no statistics on numbers or breeding success.  Some of the 90 landowners that our Project Officer has spoken to have reported seeing adult birds or hearing the distinctive call, so hopes are high that the population can build and recover over the coming decades. The Garron Plateau lies within the Antrim Hills, just north of Glenwherry, a prime site in Norhern Ireland where the RSPB lead a co-ordinated advisory and habitat management approach for the species, including being part of the Curlew Trial Management Project.

Drain blocking at Garron.

In Northern Ireland, CAPs are also being prepared for the Pettigo Plateau SAC (1268ha) in Co Fermanagh and Montiaghs Moss SAC (151ha) near Lough Neagh.  Physical works, already started at Montiaghs Moss by Butterfly Conservation and RSPB NI have and will continue to deliver improved conditions for the iconic Marsh fritillary butterfly.

CABB Scotland is helping curlew conservation through on-farm advisory work on moorland fringe farms within the Muirkirk and North Lowther SPA (26330ha).  This involves habitat management and predator control work in the area of Airds Moss SSSI including Molinia and rush-cutting using soft tracks and flails, as well as habitat improvements on a local farm nearby.   Much of this work is under the auspices of the Curlew Trial Management Project.  RSPB Scotland will shortly be undertaking forest to bog restoration on RSPB’s forthcoming acquisition on Shiel Farm in an endeavour to expand the area of curlew-friendly landscape.

Softrack at Airds Moss.

In Donegal, BirdWatch Ireland has already delivered some small-scale habitat improvements for curlews on an island in Lough Melvin and plans are well underway for fencing and targeted grazing on the Dunragh & Pettigo Plateau SAC/SPA.  Plans are also underway to improve 100ha of the blanket bog at Finandarry in the Ox Mountains.  Physical works will begin next year.  Four CAPs, being prepared for blanket bog sites in Ireland, will also help to direct future actions towards saving the remaining 150 pairs of breeding curlews in Ireland.

CABB will put practical measures in place to deliver 2228ha of improving curlew habitat.  The CAPs will highlight management actions, some of which can be implemented in the short term and others that can be used to attract additional resources on over 30,000ha of blanket bog for curlews.  Issues raised in our CAPs will also be used to influence future land management policy. 

We can lament the bleak future for curlews, or we can start to do something tangible.  The CABB team across Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland appreciates that getting the policy right and setting direction is key, but is of a mind that action now is paramount to secure the future of our threatened blanket bog talisman.  

CABB - Less talk, more action, more curlews.