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Rare stone curlew chicks fledge after farmers work around their nest

PUBLISHED: 15:08 30 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:06 30 January 2020

A stone curlew on the Holkham estate. Picture: Andy Bloomfield

A stone curlew on the Holkham estate. Picture: Andy Bloomfield

Andy Bloomfield

Stone curlew chicks have fledged at Holkham for the first time since 2012- a success hailed as a model for how farmers and conservationists can work together to protect rare wildlife.

Marking out lapwing nests on arable land at the Holkham estate. Picture: Andy BloomfieldMarking out lapwing nests on arable land at the Holkham estate. Picture: Andy Bloomfield

After a nest made by one of the UK's rarest breeding birds was found in a potato field on the north Norfolk estate, the farming tenants and contractors were asked to work around it - leaving an area of around three square metres uncultivated while they planted their crop.

Jake Fiennes, the estate's general manager for conservation, said such co-operation could become increasingly valuable in the coming years, with the government intent on making farm funding more dependent on meeting wildlife and ecological targets after Britain leaves the EU's land-based subsidy regime.

And he said it was appropriate that he received news from the RSPB about the fledglings on the same day the government published its Environment Bill.

"If you look at what farmers want to do going forward, which is producing food and enhancing biodiversity, then this is a perfect demonstration of how it might work," he said.

"Ecologists identify rare birds or protected species have decided to breed on a field, so you speak to the potato grower and the tenant farmer so they understand what is happening and how everyone can do something to protect it.

"Then you speak to the guys on the tractor who are preparing the land for the crop, which was potatoes in this case, and they choose not to grow on that part of the field, so the nest does not get destroyed and now the birds have fledged.

"It is all quite simple - it just requires collaboration and communication."

READ MORE: Farmers urged to take part in 2020 Big Farmland Bird Count

Mr Fiennes said the stone curlew nest was discovered as a result of better communication between the estate's wildlife wardens, its arable farming team, and the RSPB.

"The RSPB has been monitoring Holkham for several years," he said. "Last summer I got the Holkham wardens to go beyond the nature reserve and start showing them some of the Holkham farms. Through better communication between the arable operations and Holkham wardens and the RSPB stone curlews team, we identified stone curlew, lapwing and oystercatcher nests on land growing maize and potatoes.

"There was one stone curlew nest on a farm that had not been monitored before."

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