Curlew debated at Westminster – your essential summary

Richard Benyon

By Andrew Gilruth, GWCT Communications Director

Predator control will now be included in all existing and future curlew conservation schemes following a recent Westminster debate.

After hearing that the estimated 300 breeding pairs south of Birmingham might disappear in just eight years, Richard Benyon MP said that “our national approach to conserving species does not work well enough.”

This isn’t just a problem facing the south of England. 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.

In his passionate speech, he explained why he called for the debate and what needed to happen next. “We should stop funding curlew conservation projects that do not include effective predator control options. We have to do what works, not what is popular.”

He explained that, over the years, politicians and large conservation organisations have become locked in a “doomed pact” to achieve change through legislation and regulation. It has not worked well enough.

“To maintain their popularity, big membership organisations avoid acknowledging that the approach they have been advocating does not work, and they do not like the approaches that do work.”

Farmland conservation schemes have largely stabilised adult curlew numbers by halting further habitat loss. The problem now is chick survival. “After 20 years of studying curlew, we know enough to take action.”

In Ireland they have recently announced plans to undertake predator control alongside habitat management.

Dr Therese Coffey’s minister’s response included: “I am assured by my scientific advisers that the research shows that, although predation is the main reason for egg and chick loss in many bird species, most can withstand high levels of predation.”

This is clearly not the case for our curlew south of Birmingham.

Richard Benyon challenged her to go back to her officials because “when there is a very small number of a declining species, there is no margin for error.”

Therese Coffey explained that she had rewritten the conclusion of her speech during the debate, which included: “He has passionately set out why we need effective action, and I agree. That is why I will be asking Natural England and policy officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to include the use of predator control in all current and future projects that we fund. It is important to me that it is at least considered, and that reasons are given for why it is or, equally importantly – why it is not included in a particular scheme.”

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.

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

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Curlew decline

at 18:32 on 06/11/2017 by WBW

As with most knee jerk reactionary protectionist s ....David Stewart has shown his ignorance of a highly complex situation . Perhaps he should go and spend some time in the company of a skilled keeper . Armchair protectionists rarely see how the real countryside works . Oh ..and Red Kites regularly kill grouse up here in the Highlands .

an integrated approach

at 13:56 on 01/11/2017 by Jane Le Cocq

We farm on a very highly keepered estate and whilst there is a good population of curlews and lapwing in the area which breed successfully most of the chicks are then killed through early silage cuts. There needs to be an integrated approach - providing good nesting habitat and appropriate land management for chick survival otherwise all measures to help ground nesting birds including predator control will be in vain.

predator control

at 13:32 on 01/11/2017 by M T Simpson

It may be correct that availability of prey controls the number of predators for some species such as Sparrowhawk and Hobby, however many apex species such as Buzzard , Magpie or Badger that have a very varied diets move onto another food source when other foods become scarce. Its an eye opener to see Buzzards following a plough picking up worms like seagulls one day, feeding on Grey Partridge and killing Leverets the next day. Yes Red Kites feed on carrion, so did Buzzards !


at 12:57 on 01/11/2017 by R. S. Don

David Stewart's comment that "predators are controlled by the amount of prey available, and not the other way round" is far too simplistic. In nature the availability of prey for a species can vary suddenly (viz. the sudden decline of the rabbit population after myxamytosis or the unavailability of earthworms in a frost or a drought) and it is when this happens that the predator, whose parents' fecundity may well have been enhanced by a plentiful supply of a particular favourite prey, turns to other species it would not normally devour. And yes, the sparrow hawk is a small bird predator and the curlew chick is a small bird. Has he ever seen one?

Predator control

at 23:39 on 31/10/2017 by David Stewart

Well It's fairly obvious that all the comments so far have been made by biased, uneducated and badly informed shooters. May I remind you people all birds of prey are protected by law. One of your contributors blames the decline of Yellowhammers on Sparrowhawks, utter nonsense!! predators are controlled by the amount of prey available, and not the other way round. As for Buzzards Sparrowhawks Hobbies and Kites taking Curlews, this is very unlikely. Buzzards take mainly Rabbits and carrion, the Sparrowhawk is a small bird predator and Hobby preys on insects, Swallows and Martins, whilst the Kite very rarely takes live prey at all and feeds mainly on carrion.

Predator control?

at 21:02 on 31/10/2017 by David Smee

The biggest problem highlighted by RSPB was loss of habitat so does this debate take this into account. Another issue is this "conservation" just to keep raptor numbers down as they might effect the shooting industry?

Predator control

at 19:14 on 31/10/2017 by Harry Bott

I agree with Richard P_B above, why only Curlews? For years we have been trying to increase our population of Grey partridges with very little success. We no longer have any Green Plovers nesting on the farm in spite of good habitat. Our foxes are controlled, but our very high population of Badgers has got completely out of control, the result is not only vastly reduced numbers of wild ground nesting birds, but a collapse in our Hedgehog population. A licensing system for Badger control is desperately needed.

Predator control

at 18:27 on 31/10/2017 by PETER HOWE

If the country was stupid enough to ban foxhunting ( which had been managing predator numbers for centuries ) what else could we expect.

Curlew decline

at 17:55 on 31/10/2017 by WBW

We sadly live in a world where doing the "Right thing " is too contentious . By the right thing ...I mean ,predator control should realisticly mean ALL species that are causing a large decline in more sensitive species . Killing all the foxes , crows , stoats and weasels is no use if that is being countered by predation by birds of prey . There are several species of Birds of Prey that are now at saturation levels , this in itself is having a detrimental effect on many bird species . In the Highlands , Capercaillie are fast loosing the battle for survival . Government funded projects to protect the last of these magnificent birds will fail . Pine Martens and Goshawks are making inroads into the last of these birds ....but nothing will ever be done about them, instead , the powers that be will sit back and allow them to die out again . Let's not see this happen to the Curlew .

Predator Control

at 17:10 on 31/10/2017 by Desmond Gunner

The opposition of the Large Conservation Organisations to any form of Predator Culling is often based on the claim that there is no evidence that they are responsible. They should now be obliged to produce evidence of the actual culprits by installation of Cameras at a substantial number of nests to prove what is. When 90% of Curlew Nests fail, due to predation, it is high time we knew definitely what was responsible.

Curlew survival

at 15:15 on 31/10/2017 by Robert Morgan

I agree there should be more control on raptors, also freedom to roam is detrimental to nesting sites

Predator Control

at 14:43 on 31/10/2017 by Richard Pleydell-Bouverie

Why only Curlews? All small birds which venture far from cover like Yellowhammers have declined dramatically here as Sparrow-Hawk numbers have increased. Predator control should mean not removing but reducing numbers of avian predators, sparrow-hawks, buzzards and corvids as well as four-footed ones [including badgers]. GWCT has made the point that habitat improvement on its own does not work


at 14:07 on 31/10/2017 by Marguerite Evers

It would have been a very good move to mention, in the summary above,, who and what are the predators. In the water meadows of Oxford where I live (Chimney) curlews used to be very numerous. Over the last 6 - 10 years their numbers have plummeted. We do notice that human invasion, in the wake of the arrival of a nature conservation group (BBOWT)can be very detrimental to birds who previously enjoyed solitude on this one-time farm. Another accident of 'nature conservancy' is increasing the population of buzzards, sparrow hawks, hobbys, kites, magpies etc and guess what they eat!

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