Landscape use by breeding curlews

Curlew _SW2

By Andrew Hoodless, GWCT Director of Research

In 2018 we started fitting GPS tags to curlews in the New Forest with Pete Potts of Farlington Ringing Group to provide data on habitat use and movements. Curlew breeding and wintering numbers are declining in Hampshire and periodic surveys of breeding waders in the New Forest suggest that the curlew population probably peaked in the 1980s at about 120 pairs, but has since declined to about 45 pairs. Our aim was to identify the key habitat and site requirements, to better inform statutory authorities and conservation organisations on appropriate management and help advise the planning system.

We have obtained useful fine-scale data on brood ranges, indicating that range areas are typically 50-65 hectares during the first fortnight of the chick rearing period. The tags have also provided interesting insights into the off-duty feeding locations of adults. Our small initial sample of individuals highlights functional linkages with The Solent coastal SPAs and fields at the edge of the New Forest.

All tagged birds left the vicinity of the nest or brood on most days to visit sites away from the breeding area. We suspect that the mire habitats, whilst providing good availability of food for chicks, did not provide a good source of larger prey for adult curlews. Adults typically flew between 1.0 and 2.3 km to feed on fields, but some flew 10.0-12.5 km to feed on the coast.

Elli Rivers, a PhD student with Bournemouth University has now joined the team and along with tracking more curlews this year, we will be monitoring breeding success. As well as providing necessary information on curlew requirements at a local level, the data will complement work at sites elsewhere in the country to help us devise effective strategies for curlew conservation.

We are grateful to Andy Page (FE), Rupert Brewer (Bisterne Estate), Phil Atkinson (BTO), Russell Wynn and Marcus Ward (Wild New Forest) for assistance with this work.

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