Curlews are one of the UK’s most-loved birds and for many farmers and crofters its arrival heralds the start of spring. But sadly, this wading bird is in serious trouble; in the past two decades the UK breeding population has halved, with the most serious losses in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The only chance they have for survival is if farmers and crofters make more space for them on their land and are given the necessary financial support to do so. Yesterday, we heard how farmers in England and Scotland are helping curlews. Today, we hear from some of those fighting to bring the species back from the brink of extinction in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Curlew chick. Image: Tim Melling

Sorcha Lewis farms in the Elan Valley, Mid Wales with her husband and two children. She is passionate about promoting upland wildlife on farmland and is on the steering group of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.

“Every summer there are a few birds we actively wait for to return to signal the true start of spring, and these birds bring life to the hills. These are the skylark, house martin, cuckoo and the curlew. The haunting sound of the curlew calling is a sound like no other but we worry that this is a sound our children may not hear in their future.

I think we really need to take some bold steps to ensure a future for the curlew. There is no doubt how vulnerable curlew chicks are to predators and the numbers are not enough to provide an increased survival ratio of youngsters. Trying to stabilise the population is what is needed in the immediate future. Many of our birds come back year after year to their loyal breeding grounds, but these parents are getting older and there is concern there are no future replacements.

We need to encourage, support and educate good curlew management and see if we can reverse the spiral of potential extinction within Mid Wales (and wider) of this enigmatic species.”

Tony Davies farms at Henfron, which is also situated in the Elan Valley.

He says: “It is always exciting to spot curlews as they visit the reservoir banks, marshy rough grazing and moorland on my farm. Instantly recognisable by their unique curved beak and distinctive call. I believe that my mowing regime on the mountain, combined with managed grazing has encouraged the curlew to visit.  With more targeted management I am sure we can improve the habitat to help increase curlew numbers.”

John Jones farms in Betws Y Coed in the Conwy Valley, Wales.
He says: “The curlew is one of our most iconic species and it always lifts my spirits when I hear it. I'm very proud of the work we do for this rare bird, but the Government must develop policies that are encouraging and rewarding farmers to do more work for our rare birds."

Curlew in flight. Image: Tim Melling

David Bonner farms in partnership with his brother in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. They are working with the RSPB on its Curlew Recovery Project.

“We’ve always had curlews. There was a good lot of years when they sort of disappeared but they are starting to come back again with the work we’re doing with the RSPB.

The main change we’ve made on our land to help curlews is to keep the rushes under control, which opens the ground up so curlews can nest and see the predators coming. We’ve also put in a couple of scrapes so they can feed on the water.

The improvements we are making for the curlews is also good for the sheep, too. It gives us a bit more grazing for the sheep. So, it’s good for the farm and it just takes a couple of days a year to cut the rush and check the scrapes.” 

Hear more from David about how he is helping wildlife on his farm on this month’s RSPB podcast.

It’s not just farmers and crofters who can help the curlew, you can to. Find out how here.