I’ve written before about how we sometimes have to make difficult decisions when trying to meet our conservation objectives. I’ve also said that undertaking any kind of predator control is always a last resort and always part of a much wider package of action including influencing the policy and legal framework of land management.

In the case of the curlew, there is a lot of work to be done. There has been much focus on the predator control element of our work to save this species but perhaps not enough about everything else, so today I thought I should broaden the picture a bit.

Andy Hay's image of a curlew (rpsb-images.com)

Since the 1990s, the number of breeding curlews in the UK has halved. We know that the decline in curlew across the UK is due to poor breeding success, which is linked to changes in land-use, as well as predation – the levels of which can be affected by how we manage the land.  

Curlew are widely dispersed across the UK landscape. If we are to make a difference for them then it will require working together with farmers, land-managers, other conservation organisations and communities at a landscape-scale. And that’s what we’re trying to do. 

But we know that’s not enough. We also need all four UK governments to step up and do their bit too – not just for curlew, but for a whole host of flora and fauna too. Here’s what we’re fighting for:

  • We want the value of nature of be at the heart of decision making.
  • We are calling for post-Brexit farming and land management policies in all four countries of the UK to restore our farmed environment, with the new support system focused on helping nature to survive and thrive, which will depend upon delivering landscape-scale improvements in our natural environment as well as focusing attention on the needs of particular species. A new agricultural policy that focuses on the delivery of public goods (ie those things that you cannot buy at the till such as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife) would provide a vehicle to tackle environmental problems including helping to recover rare and threatened species such as the curlew. That is why we are working so hard through Greener UK to influence the current Agriculture Bill passing through the Westminster Parliament, as well as working with devolved governments as they develop their own future land use policies.
  • One contributor to the decline of curlew populations is the afforestation of moorlands. All four countries of the UK have signed up to ambitious climate change targets, and view forestry as playing a key role in sequestering carbon, creating pressure to increase woodland - sometimes in important wader breeding areas. Woodland creation is important, but it is critical that the right trees are planted in the right places.
  • In England, the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) sets an ambition to restore, protect and enhance the natural environment within a generation, with commitments to recover species (including curlew) and habitats, and enhance landscapes. A new agricultural policy as described above would help to achieve this ambition, and act as a tool to support the delivery of another commitment of the 25YEP – a “Nature Recovery Network”.
  • We are working with UK Government alongside other partners to ensure that the Nature Recovery Network ambition is turned into direct action on the ground. We want it to deliver a coherent, ecological network in England, which puts into practice the Lawton principles of better, bigger, more and connected protected areas. We’re pleased to see similar initiatives to deliver ecological networks developing in the other countries of the UK too - these will require cooperation across borders if they are to effectively support sustainable populations of species, while new agri-environment schemes which promote biodiversity and environmental benefits will create farmland habitats that form vital components of these networks.
  • Finally, we need legally binding targets for recovery of nature in all four countries of the UK, and mechanisms to ensure that they are delivered, to ensure that the four governments of the UK are successful in meeting their own ambitions for reversing declines in biodiversity.

For the most part, environmental policy is devolved, yet of course wildlife doesn’t recognise national borders, therefore interventions to benefit species such as the curlew will require a UK-wide, joined-up approach.

Our current work as part of the Curlew Recovery Programme is essentially to buy the species some time – intervening today while we try to fix the landscape-level drivers of decline - but that time it’s swiftly running out. Reforming the way we manage our land across the UK is the only way we will see the fortunes of this and many other species turn around.

If you, like us, believe that a reform to land management is needed, please email your MP, SMP or AM. You can find help on how to do this here.