The long billed large wader with its distinctive bubbling call is a sure sign of spring for many across the UK. However, as many of you will already be aware, curlew in the UK are struggling and its distinctive sound has been lost in many areas. The population has nearly halved since the mid-1990s. This has been driven by a decline in the quality and quantity of breeding habitat and predation of nests and young. As the UK is home to around a quarter of the world's breeding curlew population, we have a global responsibility to do something about it. If we don’t act now they could be lost from the UK within a generation.

Curlew at Brodgar – Christine Hall

On Orkney we are fortunate enough to live in a place where the call of displaying curlew, or “whaup” as they are known locally, is still the defining sound of spring. Curlew are found all over Orkney, from its expansive moorlands to its low lying wetlands and farmland. However, the same issues that are driving declines further south are threatening curlew here on Orkney, with numbers also on the decline. Curlew are therefore a key focus for much of our work across many reserves here on Orkney. Many of our reserves remain key strongholds for curlew particularly at our two largest wetland sites, The Loons and Loch of Banks, with The Loons hosting up to 40 pairs of curlew.

The Loons – Alan Leitch

So how do we manage for curlew on our reserves? The best tool for creating the right habitat conditions for curlew is through grazing. Curlew require a varied grass structure for feeding and nesting and this is best achieved through grazing with a small number of cattle. Across Orkney, we work with a number of local farmers who graze our reserves.


Cattle at The Loons – Alan Leitch

As well as managing the habitat, monitoring their numbers is a vital component of our work and helps us to ensure that the work we are doing is delivering for curlew. A good example of this is at our Brodgar reserve, at the heart of mainland Orkney. As can be seen on the graph below, after acquiring the site and introducing suitable grazing the numbers of breeding curlew increased dramatically. This shows that with the right management curlew can begin to recover.

Breeding Curlew at Brodgar since Acquisition in 2001.

Across the UK the RSPB is working both on reserves and with land owners to keep curlew singing but there is still a lot of work to do. If you would like to learn more and help our work then please hit the link below.