Main image: Close up of curlew, Credit: David Morris

Today is World Curlew Day, a day when curlews should have returned to their breeding grounds of rough pasture, heather moorland and wetlands having spent the winter feeding up on coastal areas and their bubbling songs should now be filling our countryside. But each year, these wonderful sounds are getting quieter with the population having halved since the mid-1990s and continuing to decline. 

In England, there’s approximately 30,000 breeding pairs of curlews – that’s just over half of the entire UK population so it’s integral that conservation activities here take place to ensure that we’ve got the right conditions for curlews to breed and raise their chicks successfully to sustain and increase populations.  

Over the past year, The Green Recovery Challenge Fund has helped us to kick-start our curlew recovery work within two key landscapes for breeding curlew in northern England: The Forest of Bowland and the RSPB Geltsdale reserve and Hadrian’s Wall corridor. Working with farmers and landowners, in just one year, this project enhanced 3,359 ha of habitat for breeding curlew –creating varied sward structures to provide areas for nesting and cover alongside shorter vegetation allowing chicks to move through landscapes and access invertebrate rich areas such as the additional 117 scrapes created to increase foraging habitat. 15ha of conifer regeneration was removed from blanket bog, maintaining the open breeding habitat that curlew’s favour and improving the condition of the blanket bog.   

Engagement of the local community was also an integral component of the project raising awareness and providing training opportunities to support landowners to manage land and access funding streams to support the work required to provide suitable habitat for curlew. Over 100 volunteers were recruited to help monitor curlew populations across the two areas and we hope to have some good news at the end of this year’s breeding season to show the impact of some of this work.

 Work in the Geltsdale and Hadrian’s Wall corridor will continue and be scaled up over the next two and a half years through the EU LIFE funded, Curlew LIFE project which aims to stabilise curlew populations across five landscapes in each of the four countries of the UK. In northern England we hope to create a centre of excellence for curlew conservation, demonstrating how a range of stakeholders including farmers, community groups, NGOs and statutory bodies can come together to deliver curlew conservation at a landscape scale and stabilise curlew breeding populations within these landscapes by the end of 2024.  

Image left: newly created scrapes on Skelshaw Farm, Forest of Bowland (photo: Hilary McGuire/RSPB)

We’re also continuing to support curlew recovery across our reserves network, with important reserves for curlew in England including Otmoor, Geltsdale, Dovestone, Eastern Moors, Campfield Marshes and West Sedgemoor. At RSPB Otmoor the use of temporary nest protection fencing has provided additional protection for nesting pairs and last year, six of the eight fenced nests successfully hatched young.

Temporary nest protect fence used at OtmoorThe problems facing curlew are many and complex and only by working with others will we ensure the future for curlews. Through the UK and Ireland Curlew Action Group and Curlew Recovery Partnership, we are working in partnership to share knowledge and best practice and deliver for curlew at scale across England.

Image right: temporary nest protect fence used at Otmoor. Photo: David Wildling

The RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme aims to tackle the problems facing curlew through a combination of projects on reserves and in the wider landscape, through partnerships such as those mentioned above and by building public support such as through the Curlew Sounds project where a group of musicians have come together to produce an album inspired by curlews which will be launched for sale on May 13th but you can download the lead track Simmerdim from today 

World Curlew Day is a day to celebrate these wonderful birds and raise awareness of their issues so that together we can continue to experience the sights and sounds of curlews for years to come.