Northern Irish curlews bounce back in 2023


Eurasian Curlew enjoyed a bumper breeding season in Northern Ireland this year, prompting conservationists to suggest there is hope for the declining wader.

In the Antrim Hills, measures such as placing electric fencing around nesting sites resulted in 55 chicks fledging successfully this summer. Meanwhile, in Co Fermanagh, some 43 breeding pairs were recorded across the RSPB's Lower Lough Erne reserve and on adjacent land.

The news is welcome given that Eurasian Curlew has declined by 82% in Northern Ireland since 1987. The fall in numbers is due to habitat loss, low breeding productivity and predation, and only 150 breeding pairs are estimated to remain.

Without intervention, Eurasian Curlew was predicted to be extinct in Northern Ireland within a decade (RSPB NI).

The RSPB has been working with farmers and landowners as part of the EU-funded four-year-long Curlews in Crisis project. In the Antrim Hills, with 27 protective electrified fences in place, the birds achieved a 96% hatching success rate – something RSPB NI's Conservation Officer Katie Gibb said she was "thrilled" about.

"With 55 chicks fledging this year and the return of juvenile birds from previous years, there is a flicker of hope for species recovery for Curlew in Northern Ireland," she said.

"Within the first three years of the project, in conjunction with DAERA's Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) group option which supports farmers to help curlew on their land, we have managed to get a total of 152 chicks fledged."

The charity's reserve at Lower Lough Erne is now home to the highest density of breeding curlew in Ireland, with 43 pairs recorded across 200 ha of lowland wet grassland. Estate manager Amy Burns said it was "an amazing achievement" and a "big increase" from the 36 pairs recorded last year.

This year's successes follow positive results in 2022, which saw 69 chicks successfully fledge from 37 monitored pairs in the Antrim Hills.