By Ian Coghill, GWCT Chairman of Trustees
If you enjoy the countryside, it’s likely that you’ll know and love the curlew.
Whether you’ve witnessed it on an estuary in winter or a grouse moor in spring, you will know that few birdsongs touch the soul like the haunting call of the curlew.
Sadly, the curlew is a species in serious trouble, not just here but worldwide.
We need your help to raise vital funds
Many other bird species with declining UK populations have much larger and healthier populations elsewhere in the world, this is not the case for curlew.
In fact, one in every four of the world’s Eurasian Curlew breeds in the UK, so we have a greater responsibility for its survival.
Worse still, curlew have been doing very badly over much of their British range for years. There has been a 60% population decline since the beginning of the 1970s.
As a result, the curlew was added to the Red List of Bird of Conservation Concern late last year.
Curlew have suffered a large-scale reduction, especially in the west, with a decline of over 80% in Northern Ireland since 1987, and a serious loss in the southwest of both England and Wales.
We must do what we can to help the curlew
GWCT research shows a clear link between the presence of predator control and the breeding success of curlew, even in areas where habitat remains ideal.
Our Upland Predation Experiment at Otterburn demonstrated, to even our surprise, that on unkeepered ground predation pressure was so intense that too few chicks fledged to maintain curlew populations in the longer term.
However when keepered, curlew on these same plots not only fledged enough chicks, but probably contributed to the observed increase in the local breeding population.
The 10th anniversary of Otterburn is fast approaching. In that time, the need for gamekeepers has only
increased, much to the dismay of those who don’t like what our study demonstrated.
Curlew represent a modern conservation dilemma. We calculate at Otterburn that without gamekeepers,
curlew numbers would drop by 47% after just 10 years. Perhaps largely unrecognised, the biggest natural ally of curlew conservation may be the gamekeeper - it is a shame that they are so rarely heralded as conservation heroes.
Recent reports suggest that the two main causes of curlew decline are predation of nests and chicks and the impact of agriculture on breeding habitat. Pragmatic, research-driven land management could offer a solution to these declines, but we must act before it’s too late.
Whether it’s on their breeding habitat on the moors or the coastal and low-lying wintering grounds, we must do what we can to make those with the power to influence policy and practice aware of just what is at stake.
You can help us to draw together our key curlew research in a single document, which we can update as new science informs us and best practice evolves. This will prove an essential tool in briefing journalists, policymakers and the public, putting the facts at the forefront of the on-going discussion.
With your support, we can get our voice heard
I need your support today to make that happen. Any donation you can afford will take us closer to our goal.
- £25 could help us in briefing politicians, ensuring every MP is aware of the relationship between curlew and game management. By publishing our fi ndings, we will run a targeted campaign to all 650 MPs, 129 MSPs and 60 Welsh AMs
- £100 could help us to raise awareness by writing peer-reviewed literature to inform our understanding of the role upland and lowland management plays in curlew survival
- £250 helps us to continue researching the factors causing curlew decline across the UK and establish what can be done to help their survival
Furthering our research into this nationally-threatened species allows us to speak with authority about the best path to its recovery. Many decision makers understandably wish to avoid controversy, but robust, peer-reviewed research gives them the confi dence to speak with authority.
We can also show journalists and politicians the effects of conservation in action at the Trust’s new demonstration farm, Auchnerran. Nestled alongside almost 12,500 acres of heather moorland, the farm already hosts breeding pairs of curlew and I hope it will be at the forefront of understanding how to grow the UK curlew population.
The GWCT is one of the only conservation organisations that is being entirely frank in public about what it
knows is needed to turn the curlew’s fortunes around, but we are a small organisation in conservation terms.
I am proud that we undertake pioneering research and get our messages out, but we cannot achieve it all without your help. On behalf of all Trustees of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, please accept my thanks for your continued support and in anticipation of your support for the next step in this important project.