Urgent new effort to save threatened curlews from extinction
- Credit: Tom Cadwallender
A new nature partnership has been launched to save one of East Anglia's most treasured - but most threatened - bird species.
The Curlew Recovery Partnership aims to unite landowners, farmers, conservationists, researchers and policymakers to help secure the future of the Eurasian curlew in the UK, where nearly half the breeding population has been lost over the last 25 years, with birds vanishing from many traditional sites.
In East Anglia, Breckland was seen as a stronghold for the species 10 years ago, but more recent studies suggest this population has also been weakened by factors including attacks by nest predators, a loss of suitable habitats and the impact of agricultural operations.
Dr Samantha Franks is a senior research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in Thetford - one of nine organisations on the new partnership's steering group.
She is working on a joint PhD project with fellow researcher Harry Ewing at the University of East Anglia to study curlews in the Brecks, and she said the ability to link up with landowners and other conservation bodies could be "transformative" to the bird's future prospects.
"The most recent 'Bird Atlas' report from 2007 to 2011 suggested that curlews in East Anglia maybe weren't doing so badly compared to most other parts of the country," she said.
"But what we have found out is that although curlews might have been doing alright here 10 years ago, they are now very much suffering the same issues as everywhere else.
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"The Brecks had this magic factor, but what we are beginning to see is that maybe that magic factor is not here any more.
"Across the UK what is apparent is the birds are not producing enough chicks to replenish the numbers being lost, and that is down to various reasons like nest predators and agricultural operations, and all these factors are at play in East Anglia as well.
"The new partnership is quite transformative. Curlews have become a cherished and iconic species for people to study, and we can learn so much more by working together and pooling our knowledge.
"For East Anglia, there are so many different managers of land where curlew like to be, particularly in the Brecks, we have the MOD (Ministry of Defence), private estates, public wildlife reserves and farmers as well. This is very important area for agriculture, so we need to find wins for the curlew alongside that food production.
"All of these stakeholders could have important populations of curlew on their land. So making sure they are aware of that and trying to improve the way they manage their land for curlew could be really important."
Dr Franks said curlews needed a mosaic of habitats, with different lengths of grass for chicks to hide and find food in.
She said the large numbers of military airfields and heathlands could have been important factors in their previous successes in the Brecks - which still holds a "uniquely large" lowland population of at least 75 breeding pairs, and perhaps as many as 150.
The partnership is the outcome of two Curlew Recovery Summits hosted by The Prince of Wales, who said: “The hauntingly evocative cry of the curlew is now all too seldom heard.
"This most wonderful bird needs urgent support and I am delighted that the England Curlew Recovery Partnership has been formed to bring together all those who can help provide such support and, indeed, promote this crucial cause to the public; many of whom, I am sure, are unaware of quite how special the curlew is and the part that they can play in helping to save it for the benefit of current and future generations."
The partnership’s steering group comprises nine organisations: Bolton Castle Estate, BTO, Curlew Action, Curlew Country, Duchy of Cornwall, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Natural England, RSPB, and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
It has been set up with government support and will explore opportunities to embed curlew recovery within Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which will reward farmers and land managers for environmental work.
- To get involved in the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.curlewrecovery.org