Curlew Calling

Curlews are in trouble.

Big trouble.

There are now only  68,000 breeding pairs in the UK each summer and that figure is falling.  A 46% decline in their numbers in 16 years (1994-2010) has seen one of our most iconic birds become the most threatened.

Karen Lloyd, a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry based in Kendal, Cumbria, has edited an anthology of poetry, nature writing and imagery – Curlew Calling – in celebration of and to raise money for this wonderful bird.  Quoting Karen from her website, “This anthology has been produced as a means of raising money to support direct action for curlew conservation – the BTO Curlew Appeal and others. Buy purchasing a copy you will be contributing directly to this direct action.”

It is a wonderful read, with some beautiful images throughout, supplied by artists from the Society of Wildlife Artists. You can buy a copy here on Karen’s website, knowing you are also contributing to urgent conservation work on behalf of this now Red List species.

The BTO Appeal is seeking to better understand the decline, conducting research that will ”help guide conservation at both local and national levels by informing management plans for protected sites and the approach of agri-environmental schemes”.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) on moorland, Lochindorb, Speyside, Scotland – by Steve Garvie

They have identified an urgent need to identify the causes of these declines as a necessary first step to introducing potential conservation interventions.

“Britain’s estuaries support internationally important communities of wading birds due to our mild climate and key position on the East Atlantic flyway. However, our estuarine ecosystems are under ever increasing pressure from human activities, such as development and agricultural intensification.”


Possible reasons for these declines include:

  • Increases in generalist predators reducing breeding success
  • Afforestation of marginal hill land
  • Changes in farming practice reducing habitat quality
  • Climate change

BTO Appeal funding will go towards;

  • Using BTO Bird Atlas data to investigate patterns of extinction and colonisation – this will help us understand which factors are most important
  • Predicting patterns of Curlew abundance using Bird Atlas and Breeding Bird Survey data in areas of the UK where we don’t have adequate information currently – to give a better picture of Curlew across the country
  • Studying Curlew patterns across Europe – by looking at areas with healthier Curlew populations, this can indicate potential conservation actions that could help in the UK
  • Investigating home range and habitat use of breeding Curlew using remote tracking – to understand why breeding Curlew are generally failing to benefit from habitat management undertaken as part of agri-environment schemes
  • Analysing long-term ringing data to better determine annual survival rates – to expand the currently limited knowledge of survival rates in specific areas of the country
  • Reviewing patterns of winter distribution of Curlew – to help us understand how wintering Curlew use estuarine and farmland habitats both inside and outside protected areas, across the UK
  • Launching a detailed study of Curlew habit at use in winter using GPS tagging – this will help us to understand how birds move around their landscape, in order to minimise threats to the habitats they use and to understand the likely impacts of development, disturbance, and other pressures that might affect their survival

You can download the Curlew Appeal brochure for more information here (PDF, 868.69 KB).

This work will help guide conservation at both local and national levels by informing management plans for protected sites and the approach of agri-environment schemes.

You can read about some of the work carried out so far in two recent BTO News articles about the first year of the Curlew research project (PDF, 294.23 KB)  and GPS tracking and protected area and habitat usage (PDF, 491.73 KB) but there is still plenty more to do.

To finish this post here’s that distinctive, haunting call, so evocative of wild places and estuaries, recorded by top sound recordist, ornithologist and friend Patrick Franke, published to Xeno-Canto under Creative Commons.

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