We’ve had a challenge today about some of our practices. Some of the claims we don’t believe to be true.  This blog is our response and explains our approach where predator management is concerned.

Making the decision to employ legal, lethal methods of predator control is never easy. In fact, it’s a practise we go to great lengths to avoid until we can see no other viable conservation alternatives and when the need is sufficiently great.

In the case of saving the curlew, unfortunately that’s where we are.

Our biggest wader is in serious trouble. Since the mid-1990s the breeding population of Eurasian curlews in the UK has halved. This decline has global implications as the UK is home to more than a quarter of the world’s breeding curlews.

Vast tracts of moorland, rough pasture and hay meadows, which once rang to the sound of the rising, bubbling cries of these birds have fallen silent. The main reason for the decline is that too few pairs of curlew are producing sufficient young to maintain numbers. This is primarily due to changes in land management (agricultural practices and conversion to forestry), which has made curlew much more vulnerable to predation.

Recovering the curlew is a high priority for the RSPB so we are undertaking a five-year recovery programme to improve the conservation prospects for the species It includes a science-led project to test the combination of habitat management and predator control interventions to inform the development of ‘curlew-friendly’ land management options across the wider landscape.  Working with a range of partners, the trial management is being undertaken across six key areas in the UK: two in Scotland, two in Northern England, one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.  The sites represent a mixture of RSPB reserves and privately-owned land. Eastern Moors, managed jointly by the National Trust and RSPB is one such trial site. Read more about the curlew Trial Management Project here.

Working with experienced, professional contractors who can carry out the predator control as expertly as possible is key for us. We follow a rigorous recruitment procedure to check that our contractors have the required skills and qualifications, and to ensure they have no history of criminal activity involving wildlife. They are required to keep detailed records of the predator control they undertake, which they share with the RSPB on a weekly basis.

In the short-term there are no non-lethal options available because the curlew is a widely dispersed species so options like predator fencing are not going to work across the wide expanses of the uplands that curlew inhabit. In the longer term, if we are to have any impact on the species, it will require working together with farmers, land-managers, other conservation organisations and communities to encourage the widespread adoption of curlew friendly land-management practices across the landscape. This includes working with land managers to reduce forest edge effects (forests provide cover for predators) and to improve habitat through changes to grazing regimes, as well as reducing the release of vast numbers of game birds into the countryside, as these may act as a major food source for foxes, so could contribute to the high number of predators currently present in the UK countryside.

I know this is a hugely emotive and sometimes controversial subject.  I know that not everyone is happy with this course of action. In fact, sometimes we’re not either. But in this case – based, as always, on scientific evidence –  it’s what we think is needed.

We always do our best to be honest and transparent with everything we do, including publishing an annual blog on the predator control we carry out as part of our work. 

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