Wiltshire reserve anticipates record stone-curlew numbers


Staff at RSPB Winterbourne Downs are expecting record numbers of Eurasian Stone-curlew this year as decades of conservation effort begin to pay off.

Last year, 11 pairs of the wader bred at the Wiltshire reserve, raising 19 youngsters. Wardens are now hoping that more individuals will return in 2023.

The reserve is part of a conservation project launched by the RSPB in the 1980s to protect stone-curlew habitat. In 2022, 30 breeding pairs were recorded on RSPB nature reserves across Britain. Conservationists are also working with farmers and land-owners to protect suitable nesting sites in counties including Norfolk, Suffolk, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Some 11 pairs of stone-curlew bred at Winterbourne Downs in 2022 (Jonathan Theobald).

Nick Bruce-White, Director of RSPB England, said: "With much of our wildlife-rich grasslands and 97% of our wildflower meadows lost since the 1930s, it is only through working in collaboration with like-minded farmers, landowners and partners that we can continue to see a rise in species like stone-curlew here in England."

But he warned delays to government schemes to help farmers protect nature, such as the environmental land management scheme (ELMS), were putting the future of Eurasian Stone-curlews in jeopardy. ELMS is being developed to replace EU agricultural subsidies post-Brexit and will pay farmers for work to help protect the environment, such as cutting pesticide use and working towards net zero.

However, farmers have criticised the government for a lack of clarity over what the new scheme will entail and when exactly it will be rolled out.

Mr Bruce-White said: "There is much to be done to secure a long-term future for this species in the wider countryside. Now, more than ever, our farmers need the guarantee of support from the government of the UK through these schemes, empowering farmers to deliver for wildlife, climate and long-term food security."