Upland wader facing extinction needs a home in the North Pennines

Chris Collett

Saturday 18 June 2016

Nature conservation organisation, the RSPB, is calling on farmers in the North Pennines to give a home to nesting curlews.

With their beautiful bubbling song and long down-curved bills, curlews are a much-loved and integral part of the upland landscapes of Northern England during the spring and summer months.

However, this wading bird is in serious trouble and could become extinct in a generation unless urgent action is taken.

The UK is one of the most important countries in the world for breeding curlews, hosting up to a quarter of the global breeding population. But since the 90s, their numbers here have almost halved.

The good news is that in the North Pennines, farmers can take just a few simple steps to help reverse this serious decline.

Janet Fairclough, RSPB Conservation Advisor, provides specialist advice to farmers in the North Pennines about how they can help wildlife thrive alongside their agricultural businesses. She says: "Traditional hay meadows provide excellent habitat for nesting curlews. By shutting meadows up in the spring and putting off mowing them until July, farmers can give curlews enough time to nest and raise their chicks."

"If you need to cut meadows before July, keep an eye open for curlews flying up in front of the tractor, as they may have come off a nest. Mowing from the centre of the field outwards can help push any flightless chicks out of the way of machinery and into the safety of neighbouring fields."

"Farmers can also give curlews a home by maintaining rush pasture and allotments to provide a mixture of short and long vegetation across the farm. Grazing with both cattle and sheep provides the vegetation structure that curlews prefer. Rush management by cutting or weed-wiping may also be necessary to keep them from becoming too dense."

Nick Howard is a sheep and beef farmer. He farms at Sinderhope, near Allendale. He says:

"The call of the curlew on their return to my farm reminds me that spring is around the corner. It's nostalgic to see these majestic birds with their wide wing span and long curved beaks nesting on the same areas of my farm each year.

"My land is managed under a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme. As part of this management agreement, the pastures and hay meadows are not harrowed or rolled during the nesting season. This helps to protect and preserve the habitat that the curlews and their chicks need to survive. While shepherding the stock, I am always mindful of the nesting sites and I get great pleasure in seeing the eggs hatch."

The dramatic decline of curlews in the last few decades has been caused by the low number of chicks fledging. This in turn, is the result of a loss of suitable breeding habitats due to agricultural intensification and increased predation from foxes and crows.

As well as giving curlew-friendly advice to farmers in the North Pennines, the RSPB has launched a five-year recovery programme which includes research on a series of trial sites across the UK, to test whether a combination of habitat management and predator control can be effective in halting the curlew decline across the wider landscape.

Janet is available to provide free advice to farmers in the North Pennines and would particularly like to hear from those in the Allen Valleys, Lunedale and Baldersdale. There is some funding available to help farmers control dense rush in these areas for the benefit of nesting curlews. Farmers interested in helping curlews and other wildlife on their land can call Janet on 07866 554169 or email her at janet.fairclough@rspb.org.uk.

1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organizations.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Farming