Bid to save threatened bird brings baby boom to Norfolk

A recently-hatched curlew chick.

A recently-hatched curlew chick. - Credit: Pensthorpe Conservation Trust

A threatened bird is set to make a comeback in Norfolk as part of a project to help the species recover.

The Eurasian curlew is suffered significant declines in population in Britain over the last four decades, but dozens are about to be released into the wild to the west of the county.

A large-scale project has seen 118 curlew eggs collected from airfields – 76 of which are currently being incubated, hatched and reared at Pensthorpe Natural Park near Fakenham.

In July, they will be released into the wild at specially-chosen sites in west Norfolk, including at Wild Ken Hill and the Sandringham Estate.

The stark winter beauty of Breydon Water where thousands of migratory birds make their home over the

A curlew at Breydon Water. - Credit: Simon Finlay

The locations have been selected as the right kinds of habitats in which these birds can thrive.

It is hoped a new curlew habitat around the Norfolk coast will connect with an existing population in Breckland, creating a community and helping the species to recover.

The project is led by Natural England, whose staff have been working alongside the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Royal Air Force to collect eggs from military and civil airfields since April.

Airfields are ideal for ground-nesting curlews to lay their eggs, but having the birds so close to runways poses an air safety risk.

Curlew eggs being incubated after they were collected from airfields.

Curlew eggs being incubated after they were collected from airfields. - Credit: Pensthorpe Conservation Trust

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Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, said: "We are thrilled to be playing a part in this incredible journey in aiding the recovery of the curlew. Breeding curlew have been lost across large areas of lowland habitat and are just clinging on in a few isolated areas.

"In 2018 just six curlew chicks were reported to have fledged across the whole of southern England. Against this trend, being able to save 118 eggs from destruction, to be used for captive rearing and release is a remarkable achievement."

Graham Irving, wildlife management lead adviser at Natural England, added: "Translocation of curlew at this scale has never been undertaken and will make a real difference to the population of this iconic bird in the east of England.

"We’re proud to be leading such an innovative project which will not only improve the prospects of curlew, but will inform action to help re-establish populations of other species too."

What are curlews?

The curlew can be seen around the whole coastline of the UK, though their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent decades.

They have a wingspan of up to one metre and are recognisable by their long, thin bills which have as downward curve.

Curlews love to feast on seafood such as shellfish and shrimps, but like many other birds they enjoy eating worms as well.

It is Europe's largest wading bird, but is now red-listed – making the species of the highest conservation priority.

The UK is home to around a quarter of the global breeding population – about 66,000 pairs.

The RSPB said there have been "worrying declines in the breeding population throughout much of the UK", as figures show an overall drop of 42pc between 1995 and 2008.