The RSPB is working as part of the Northern Upland Chain Local Partnership to help save the curlew across our protected landscapes in Northern England. RSPB Conservation Officer Elisabeth Charman explains more.

Beautiful yet haunting, the evocative sound of the curlew heralds spring, and the promise of a new season ahead. For me, it instantly takes me back to my childhood and seeing curlews returning to the uplands each year to breed. I couldn’t have imagined then that 30 years later I’d be involved in projects to save the species in England.

Curlew in flight (c) Tim Melling

Curlews across the world don’t seem to be coping very well with the changing world. Two species are already probably extinct – the Eskimo curlew and the slender-billed curlew, with no confirmed sightings of either for many years now. It’s hard to believe that ‘our’ curlew, Numenius arquata, is in trouble. But the fact is, they are disappearing at an alarming rate across the UK. Vast swathes of southern England are now curlew-less and parts of Scotland have far fewer than they did 20-30 years ago. All in all, we’ve lost about a third of our curlews in the past three decades.

In a global context, this is serious as UK supports about a quarter of the entire world population. We are lucky in Northern England, we still have a reasonable number of curlews and they appear to be holding themselves steady.  But we can’t be complacent. The curlew is a species facing a global crisis and we have a responsibility to rise to this challenge.

The Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership covers the great swathe of the Pennine uplands from the Scottish Border to south Yorkshire. It includes the five protected landscapes of Northumberland National Park Authority, North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and the Forest of Bowland AONB. Drawing on its remit to ‘conserve and enhance the natural heritage of the northern uplands’, and ‘adopting’ the curlew as its flagship bird species, the Local Nature Partnership has embarked on an exciting and ambitious programme of work for the bird.

We know that the decline in curlew across the UK is due to poor breeding success, which is linked to changes in land use, primarily a reduction in good-quality habitat (changes in farming practices, conversion to forestry), and predation. 

Curlew chick (c) Tim Melling

As a partnership of organisations, we are working with landowners to apply the best available knowledge on land management for curlew and other species to protect and enhance their habitats. We will make sure we have the most up-to-date data on numbers and distribution of curlews across the area and we are working on ways to improve our data gathering to monitor their population trend closely.

Saving the curlew can not be done in isolation, we are strongest in partnership and together we will fight to ensure the sound of the curlew is not lost from our uplands for future.