This blog is written by Nick - residential volunteer at RSPB West Sedgemoor, Swell Wood and Greylake.
Hello blog readers, before I tell you about our work with curlews I want to quickly introduce myself. My name is Nick and I’m one of the residential volunteers based down here at West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Swell Wood. Considering this is my first blog post, you may be forgiven for thinking I’m a new arrival here. In actual fact I arrived way back in November and have since spent every available moment outside and getting stuck in on these fantastic Somerset reserves. The winter work programme is cold, wet, muddy and physical but I have loved every minute of it and feel very lucky to be here. Having said that, there is nothing quite like the feeling of watching the days become longer, the sun become warmer and the countryside become greener.
As winter turned to spring, one of the most welcome changes was the arrival of the curlew call, wafting over the fields and rhynes (ditches) of West Sedgemoor. The curlew is a special bird, and there are few sounds in nature more evocative or beloved by people. But it is one which has become increasingly absent from the countryside in recent decades. In the years 1995-2012 the English population of Europe’s largest wading bird declined by 30%, which is a considerable drop in such a small space of time. This has been most keenly felt in the lowlands, where they have almost disappeared as a breeding bird, making our population here on the levels vitally important.
The curlew is now on the UK’s red list of birds of conservation concern, where it has been since 2015. What makes this drop even more alarming is that the UK’s curlew population is globally significant, with these islands hosting a quarter of the world’s breeding pairs every spring and summer. Anything we can do therefore, to increase the breeding success of these birds is crucial. Alongside habitat loss and changes to land use, unsustainable levels of nest predation is thought to be one of the leading threats to the curlew, and this is something we've been trying to address this spring.
Josh modelling his portable hide.
Introducing Josh, my fellow residential volunteer and curlew detective. He’s spent hours upon hours this spring, scoping out possible nest sites disguised within a tractor, pickup truck or using his handy portable hide. When he’s found a nest, he calls the rest of the team and we head out to erect a 25x25m electric mesh fence around it, protecting the eggs from mammalian predators. We’ve become a well-oiled machine and can get a fence up in record time, minimising disturbance to the birds. We then retreat back to our other duties, while Josh watches to make absolutely sure the parents return to the nest.
One of the protected curlew nests on West Sedgemoor.
So far this spring we have fenced a total of five nests (all containing four eggs each), two of which have already hatched successfully. Of these two nests, one egg unfortunately failed. But even this will not go to waste, as it is being sent to the University of Sheffield where researchers are conducting an important study into the causes of failed curlew eggs. This is by far one of the most rewarding things I’ve been a part of, and with the breeding season far from over we hope to see many more successful nests.
I hope you've all enjoyed this update on our work! I look forward to sharing more insights from the moor over the summer months. Nick.
All photos by Nick.
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