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EU LIFE+ Project - Securing the future of the stone-curlew in the UK

Stone-curlew portrait

The elusive stone-curlew, a summer breeder in the UK, is very vulnerable to human disturbance and relies on dry stony soil for camouflage - limiting the habitat available to it.

At the turn of the 20th century, the UK was home to several thousand pairs of stone-curlews, but loss of suitable habitat (due to afforestation, agricultural reforms, and development) meant by the mid 1980s there were under 170 pairs left. Declines continue across Europe, and the UK may become more important for the survival of the species with climate change.

Thanks to successful RSPB and Natural England species recovery projects over the last 30 years, there are now over 400 pairs of stone-curlews in the UK in two main remaining population centres - in the Brecks, where they nest mainly on sugar beet crops, and around Salisbury Plain in Wessex, with smaller satellite populations on the Suffolk coast and on the Berkshire-Oxfordshire border. 

However, this population is dependent on resource-heavy intervention involving fieldworkers finding nests and marking them or lifting nests and chicks to allow agricultural operations to proceed without destroying them. Research shows that without this work the population would once again decline.

These projects were funded through Action for Birds in England, but work now costs the RSPB more each year as the population grows, and cannot be sustained long-term.

By working closely with farmers and landowners in these areas, we will help them to create more safe areas for stone-curlews to nest, by, for instance helping them to access agri-environment schemes.

Project objectives

  • Increase the proportion of stone-curlews nesting on safe nesting habitat to over 75 per cent
  • Protect existing stone-curlew nest sites
  • Double the amount of semi-natural short grass heathland and downland suitable for nesting stone-curlews
  • Improve the management of grassland to maintain a short sward by eg. rabbit grazing to improve nesting success on semi-natural habitat
  • Create more areas of disturbed soil which stone-curlews like for camouflage and which also benefit flowering plants
  • Improve the management and siting of fallow plots created under Higher Level Stewardship
  • Work with Natural England to ensure future agri-environment schemes options are available to benefit stone-curlews, so that more safe nesting plots can be created
  • Ultimately reduce the resource needed for monitoring and rescues

Key dates so far

  • September 2012- Project Funding Awarded (project started)
  • Winter 2012/2013- Three new member's of staff have been appointed to help landowners to access agri-environment schemes and create safe nesting habitat for stone-curlews: Andrew Holland - Brecks and Suffolk Coast farmland 01842 756714 Robert Hawkes - Brecks and Suffolk Coast grass-heathland 01842 756715, Diane White - North Wessex farmland birds 01488 680452
  • Spring 2013: Working closely with Natural England, we are mapping habitats across the stone-curlew's range to see where existing habitat needs to be improved, or new habitat can be created
  • Summer 2013: With the help of farmers and Natural England advisers, we're deploying new plot management techniques to make them safer and more attractive to stone-curlews

Work planned or underway

Advisers are working with farmers and Natural England in Wessex, the Brecks and Suffolk coast to create more stone-curlew fallow plots through HLS.

Opportunity maps are being created to identify areas suitable for grassland creation and protected areas where grassland management needs to be improved.


Chalk Country newsletter - Winter 2013-2014

Chalk Country newsletter - Winter 2013-2014

721Kb, PDF

Issue 6 of the regional stone-curlew project newsletter

Date: 5 March 2014


The Brecks Newsletter - Winter 2013-2014

The Brecks Newsletter - Winter 2013-2014

237Kb, PDF

News from the Brecks on our work with the stone curlew and other wildlife

Date: 12 February 2014


Securing the future of the stone-curlew in the UK

Securing the future of the stone-curlew in the UK

428Kb, PDF

Information on the threats to this species in the UK and what we are doing to help it.

Date: 2 August 2013


ADVICE - managing farmland for stone curlew

ADVICE - managing farmland for stone curlew

2.01Mb, PDF

Date: 21 August 2007


Brecks Stone-Curlew News

Brecks Stone-Curlew News

405Kb, PDF

Welcome to the first edition of Stone-curlew News.

Date: 25 April 2013


Who to contact

Emily Field
Project Manager- Stone-curlew UK (LIFE)


The project’s objectives are supported by Natural England, and we will be working closely with other organisations, landowners and land managers including the Ministry of Defence.


Funded by EU LIFE+

EU LifeNature 2000