The widespread decline in stone-curlews is primarily attributed to habitat loss.
The effect of habitat loss
The habitat loss experienced by stone-curlews is due to the changes in agriculture in favour of more intensive and mainly arable farming, and also plantation forestry. Lower levels of grazing by livestock, and more recently, declines in rabbit populations, have left large tracts of grassland unsuitable for nesting due to higher vegetation height.
On arable land, mechanised farming operations have dramatically affected stone-curlews’ breeding success. Many nests were lost, especially as a result of the hoeing of root crops and rolling of cereals.
For more than 30 years, conservationists have worked closely with farmers to save stone-curlews by protecting nests within crops. As a result, the population has been increasing since the 1980s, and agri-environment schemes have played an extremely important role in the birds’ conservation. Much of this work has been supported by a long-standing partnership with Natural England, landowners and farmers and funded by Action for Birds in England (AfBiE).
Through continued efforts with farmers, landowners and gamekeepers, we now need to reduce stone-curlews’ dependence on nest protection by securing more sustainable solutions.
The EU LIFE project
The EU LIFE Information and Communication Project “Securing the future of the stone-curlew” was set up in 2012. The aim was to make the population of stone-curlews sustainable.
Through an integrated programme of land management advice and raising awareness, it aimed to secure both an increase in the amount of safe nesting habitat available to stone-curlews, and generate greater support from within local communities for their conservation. The aims were:
- To secure more fallow nest plots on arable land
- To restore semi-natural grass heath and downland
- To build community support, through establishing a team of volunteers, demonstration farms and empowering land managers
- To improve policy relating to stone-curlews
- To develop volunteers, including building stakeholder capacity for monitoring and nest protection
It will take time for stone-curlews to reach a fully sustainable population as habitat reaches good condition and stone-curlews colonise it. However, some results of the project are already very evident and most project targets have been reached or exceeded.