Curlews need farmers' help

Though still seen often in Britain, Eurasian Curlew has suffered a radical decline over the last few decades. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
Though still seen often in Britain, Eurasian Curlew has suffered a radical decline over the last few decades. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
The RSPB is calling on farmers in the Forest of Bowland to provide habitat for nesting Eurasian Curlews.

With its beautiful bubbling song and long down-curved bill, the species is a much-loved and integral part of the upland landscapes of Lancashire and Yorkshire during the spring and summer months. However, the wading bird is in serious trouble and could be wiped out in Britain within a generation unless urgent action is taken.

Britain is one of the most important countries in the world for breeding curlews, hosting up to a quarter of the global breeding population, but since the 1990s, their numbers have almost halved. The good news is that, in Bowland, farmers can take just a few simple steps to help reverse the decline.

Gavin Thomas, RSPB Conservation Advisor, provides specialist advice to farmers in Bowland about how they can help wildlife thrive alongside their agricultural businesses. He said: “Traditional hay meadows provide excellent habitat for nesting curlews. By shutting meadows up in April and putting off mowing them until late June, farmers can give curlews enough time to nest and raise their chicks.

“Simple measures such as keeping an eye open for curlews flying up in front of the tractor, which may have come off a nest, can mean that clutch of eggs surviving to hatch, rather than being needlessly crushed when rolling fields for example. Mowing meadows from the centre outwards can help push any flightless chicks out of the way of machinery and into the safety of neighbouring fields.

“Farmers can also give curlews a home by maintaining damp rush pastures with a mixture of short and long rush cover across the farm. This can be achieved simply by rotational management of rush to provide bedding material.”

Mark Shorrock is a sheep and beef farmer and agricultural contractor from Stonyfold Farm on the south-west Bowland fringe. He said: “I love to see and hear curlews returning to my farm each spring and I would hate to lose them. They nest in my meadows, which I don’t roll or spread slurry on, and cut much later than most local farms. This means curlew chicks have usually fledged by the time it's ready for mowing.

“My cows create tussocky pastures where curlews feed, and I’ve created a few little wetland areas which are also good habitat for them. We get a lot of crows in our area so I also control these so they don’t prey on the curlew eggs and chicks.”

The dramatic decline of Eurasian Curlew over the last few decades has been caused by the low number of chicks fledging. This is the result of a loss of suitable breeding habitat due to agricultural intensification and increased predation from Foxes and crows.

As well as giving curlew-friendly advice to farmers in Bowland, the RSPB has launched a five-year recovery programme which includes research on a series of trial sites across the country, to test whether a combination of habitat management and predator control can be effective in halting the decline across the wider landscape. 

Farmers interested in helping Eurasian Curlew and other wildlife on their land can call Gavin on 07814 462429 or email him at gavin.thomas@rspb.org.uk.