photo courtesy of RSPB Images

When Stephen Hawking was writing “A Brief History of Time” someone advised he would lose half the potential readership with each equation he included; so he settled on just e=mc² in the entire book. I’m thinking the same might be true for curlew statistics so how about: the number of curlews in the UK has halved since the millennium; they might be all gone in 50 years? Do we really need any more convincing to do something about it? Apparently we do, since the number continues to fall.

The UK holds a quarter of the world population of Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) so one might imagine we would feel some responsibility for them. Orkney is the world capital for curlew breeding so, in these islands, we have an even greater duty of care.

A duty of care, that is, if one believes in the importance and value of curlews. They are not an economic species: they do not feed us; they aren’t pollinators or pest controllers. So, those among us who feel the need to conserve wildlife – for its own sake and for our own wellness – must find ways to galvanise a critical mass of people. Conservation must become a mass movement, not just a mass lip service. We will not achieve this by criticising farmers, foresters, governments or builders – we have to inoculate everyone with the conservation bug. All must feel it. When this happens curlews will be safe (and puffins, hen harriers and the white rhinoceros)

photo courtesy of Christine Hall

Mary Colwell in Curlew Moon explains there is no formula written down for lasting change.  The Save the Whale campaign was ignited by two things: the public being made aware that whales ‘sing’; and by film of a small, flimsy boat – Rainbow Warrior – getting between a whale and a giant Japanese whaling ship. Who knew they would be seminal moments in a global change? Colwell goes on to quote American sociologist, Eric Hoffer: ‘…we must know how to kindle and fan extravagant hope’. My old school headteacher, Ken Cook, used to say ‘We must have outrageous goals.’

In 30 years the red kite has gone from a handful – one of only three globally threatened species in the UK –  to 10,000 birds widespread. It could be the biggest species conservation success story in UK history. Today the same challenge faces the curlew. Actually, no challenge faces the curlews, they don’t know what a challenge is. The challenge is ours, so let us have extravagant hope and set outrageous goals.

photo courtesy of Alan Leitch