Curlew in decline - policies based on results, not intentions: our letter in The Times

Curlew LetterSir,

Our curlew are retreating north because government conservation policies are failing (Comment, June 19). South of Birmingham there are just 300 nesting pairs left. At the current rate of decline they will have vanished in eight years because the young are being eaten, mostly by foxes and crows.

On Dartmoor curlew are down to the last breeding pair. Those that lobbied the government to fund what they liked, maintaining curlew meadows, should now support what else is required, effective predator control. We agree with Matt Ridley. Defra needs polices based on results, not intentions. So do our curlew.

Andrew Gilruth
Director of Communications
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Will you help us stop curlew retreating?

CurlewWe don’t want the curlew to go the way of many of our much-loved birds, like the corncrake and the nightjar. They shouldn’t be consigned to a few remote places. That is why we are asking you to support this urgent appeal for funds.

Donate to the GWCT Curlew Appeal >

It is estimated that there are just 300 pairs south of Birmingham, and these could disappear in just eight years. However, this isn’t just a problem facing the south. Breeding curlew have declined by 46% across the UK in just 25 years. The picture would be more widespread if curlew were not thriving on driven grouse moors. 

Farmland conservation schemes have largely stabilised adult curlew numbers by halting further habitat loss.

The problem now is chick survival. The fate of the curlew is literally in the hands of farmers and gamekeepers - we need to get the right advice out there fast.

How you can help

£25 could help us to get our practical guidelines in the hands of those on the ground who can bring about curlew recovery

£100 could help us to highlight how current conservation policy is failing to give curlew the best chance of recovery by briefing journalists and politicians

£250 helps us to get advisors out to curlew sites and assess what can be done to aid their recovery on the ground this year

Donate to the GWCT Curlew Appeal >


Decline in Curlew

at 10:40 on 26/06/2017 by Kelvin Thomson

Predator and prey exist in every habitat. Curlews will survive as a successful species if they breed in sufficient numbers and enough young make it through to adulthood. This needs suitable habitat for them to feed, nest and the young to hide in. Farming practices have reduced the available habitat enormously so reducing the number of successful breeding pairs. With reduced breeding pairs and lower numbers of young then the impact of predators is higher as a percentage along with other issues like bad weather. But the solution is not to eliminate predators, it is to restore or increase suitable habitat!


at 13:23 on 21/06/2017 by Derek Allen

On Saturday morning I watched a farming contractor cutting grass fields at high speed.Saturday evening I saw 9 adult curlew on the neighbouring horse grazed field. It doesnt take much imagination to see what happened to any chicks. In this area there were several hundred upto about 5 years ago, wintering on the flat roof of a car dealership believe it or not. The building has gone and now we rarely see more than a few curlew. That successful breeding population decimated by a combination of rural and urban developments.


at 9:48 on 21/06/2017 by Nicholas Watts

We seem all agreed that the problem for the decline of the Curlew is that there are too many predators and the reason there are too many predators is because there are so many reared pheasants in our countryside. These pheasants are only half sharp and are easy prey for foxes, badgers, kites, buzzards and the crow family. All these predators now have a surplus of food for 10 months of the year. The two months they don't have a surplus of food is May and June and so they turn their attention to our ground nesting birds during those two months.

Decline in curlew numbers

at 8:53 on 21/06/2017 by Arthur Branthwaite

The answer must lie in predator control surely. How many Urban foxes did we see 40/50 years ago, their population has exploded. Along with the higher numbers of magpies and other corvids. There are more rats in UK now than at any other time .Gamekeepers and Farmers are helping all they can, but we must all do our bit to help where we can. There's no such thing as a balance of nature, don't believe the brainwash of the Chris Packam brigade.

Curlew Decline

at 19:21 on 20/06/2017 by Desmond Gunner

Philip Merricks comments that he has had to fence Elmley NNR against Badgers to prevent predation by them, but Anthony Burnand says predators have always been there, and co-existed for many years. The difference is that Badgers were so rare that they required legal protection to "save" them. Now they are so common that they are no longer "endangered" and cannot justify continued protection. I believe that 9 out of 10 Curlew nests fail due to predation, so cameras should be used to identify the culprit.

Decline in Curlew numbers

at 14:29 on 20/06/2017 by Philip Merricks

Regarding the very good question posed by Anthony Bernard, the answer is very clear. Being that mainline predators of the eggs and chicks of breeding waders including Curlew have hugely increased in recent years. A study of the chick productivity of nearly 3000 pairs of breeding Lapwing and their chicks on our Elmley NNR has revealed the large increase in fledging success when foxes, crows and stoats are controlled and when badgers are fenced out of the reserve. Predator control is not "great fun". It is tedious, often unpleasant, hard work. With no financial payback. Only the reward of knowing that large numbers of breeding wader chicks have survived which very evidently would not have been the case if targeted predator control had not been undertaken

Decline in Curlew

at 11:48 on 20/06/2017 by Anthony Burnand

Whilst it is clearly obvious that Predation from Rats, Foxes, Corvids, and Mustelids contribute to the decline of ground nesting birds like the Curlew, how is it then, that all these have co-existed for many years. We should be looking elsewhere for the problem, be-it, draining flood plains, use of insecticides, use of chemicals, restricted gene pool, or parts of Europe shooting and eating them. It is far too easy to get out the guns and traps, and although great fun, may not yield the answer we seek.

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