RSPB says farmers have helped the resurgence of stone curlews in the Brecks

Adult stone curlew. Picture: Chris Knights/rspb-images.com

Adult stone curlew. Picture: Chris Knights/rspb-images.com - Credit: Chris Knights/rspb-images.com

Some of the winged stars of the BBC Springwatch programme may have had a tough time on TV – but conservationists say their species is thriving in Breckland, thanks to the efforts of farmers.

Millions of viewers enjoyed a unique insight into the family life of nesting stone curlews on the wildlife show filmed at the RSPB's flagship nature reserve at Minsmere.

But despite that single egg failing to hatch, the RSPB said the picture is bright, with many successful hatchings in the Brecks and a record number of breeding pairs recorded on the Suffolk coast.

Of the 112 nesting stone curlew pairs which the charity is monitoring in the Brecks, 65 have successfully hatched chicks so far this year. Meanwhile, 10 of the Suffolk coast's record 15 breeding pairs this year are at Minsmere, with many also already raising chicks.

Originally, stone curlews nested on grass heathland in the Brecks but the numbers breeding in the UK fell by more than 85pc between 1940 and 1985 as their natural habitat gradually disappeared, and the birds increasingly took to nesting on arable farmland.

Through an EU Life+ funded project, the RSPB provides advice to landowners in the Brecks to help them create stone curlew plots where the birds can nest safely away from farm operations. Since 2010, the number of stone curlews nesting on these safe plots in Brecks farmland has doubled, and there are now about 240 breeding pairs in East Anglia, up from fewer than 100 in 1985.

Tim Cowan, RSPB Breckland stone curlew project officer, said: 'Thanks to farmers and landowners in the area, we have been able to create the very special conditions that stone curlews need to nest successfully, and its working.

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'Without nest protection and the diligent efforts of farmers and landowners in the Brecks, the species may well have become extinct here by the turn of the century. It is fantastic to witness the dedication and pride that landowners, estate managers and gamekeepers take in conserving the stone curlew and other Brecks wildlife, now and for future generations to enjoy.'

Brecks farmer Peter Smith, who has created stone curlew nesting plots at Hall Farm in Wordwell, south of Thetford, said: 'As part of our agri-environment agreement we've been able to create two areas of bare ground specially to encourage stone-curlews to nest. This year we have a pair of stone-curlews on each plot and both nests have hatched chicks, which are perfectly camouflaged against the stony sandy soil.

'It's brilliant that they have nested on the plots, where the nests are much safer from potentially being damaged than they would be if they'd nested amongst the sugar beet crop. This means we can still help the birds by giving them somewhere to nest on the farm without having to interrupt our farming operations to protect or move nests to safety.'