Close-up of curlew in flight

The Curlew Sounds Project

The Eurasian curlew is threatened with extinction in the UK and Ireland. To help these iconic birds fight back, a group of leading musicians - including David Gray, Talvin Singh, and The Unthanks - have recorded a stunning new album.

Curlews in flight over a blue background

What is the Curlew Sounds Project?

Moved by the plight of curlews, musician and nature-lover Merlyn Driver gathered fellow artists from the UK, as well as from countries where some of ‘our’ curlews migrate to and from, and called on them to create new curlew-inspired pieces. He's compiled this beautiful music, along with curlew soundscapes recorded at the bird's remaining hotspots throughout the UK, onto a stunning double album: ‘Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds’. The album was released on May 13, with the lead track made available on World Curlew Day, April 21.

 

Proceeds from the single and album will directly support the RSPB's Curlew Recovery Programme. This programme includes the EU funded Curlew LIFE project, managed by the RSPB this project is delivering emergency action for curlew in five key landscapes across the country.

Album art by Tara Okon.

Why curlews need our help

During the breeding season, the ‘bubbling’ sound made by the male curlew to attract a mate and defend his territory is one of the most evocative sounds of the British countryside. But the fate of the curlew now hangs in the balance. Curlew numbers have declined by 48% since the mid-1990s, and populations remain unstable.


To combat this, the RSPB is delivering a programme of conservation both on our reserves and in the wider landscape. We're focussing on areas where the situation is most perilous, as well as those areas with key populations. Alongside our partners, we're working with land managers and communities to improve habitat and raise awareness of curlew conservation issues. Our goal is for curlew populations in the UK to be stable. It's an ambitious target, but the funds raised through this album project will help us work towards it.

Curlew walking on grass

Curlews in culture

The call of the curlew has heralded spring in many parts of the UK for generations and inspired a wealth of folklore, poetry, art and music. Their unique vocalisations are often described as haunting, but just as often as ecstatic. Perhaps this partly explains why curlews have stirred such a range of responses from poets, musicians and writers.


Curlews appear in one of the oldest-known English poems, The Seafarer, which was written in the 10th Century. Fast forward to the 19th and 20th Centuries and the poets Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes all included curlews in their work.


Curlews have inspired music too - including pieces written by artists as diverse as Benjamin Britten and Brian Eno, and more recently Northern Flyway, Grasscut and Spell Songs. Now it is the turn of the Curlew Sounds Project to artfully combine culture and conservation.

Where conservation meets creativity

Disc one of this innovative album boasts new works from a range of artists, all of whom had one brief – create a piece inspired by curlews. A new song by Ivor-novello Award-winner David Gray appears alongside the haunting vocal stylings of Finnish group Tuuletar, and a new track by Mercury-award winner Talvin Singh. Other contributors include Cosmo Sheldrake, Norwegian Sámi musician Marja Mortensson , and London-based jazz musicians Camilla George and Tamar Osborn. The album’s title track is provided by the creative force behind the album, Orkney-born Merlyn Driver.

 

Disc two shifts focus entirely to the birds themselves, with breath-taking soundscapes recorded at priority locations for curlews across the UK. It’s at these key landscapes that the Curlew LIFE project aims to stabilise the breeding populations of curlews by 2024.

 

To read Merlyn's curlew diaries and discover more about curlews in culture and nature, visit curlewsoundsproject.org

Curlew video screenshot

Free downloadable ringtone

To give you a taste of the magic of the Curlew Sounds Project an exclusive ringtone has been created. Download it for free!

 

Available for download now on most devices - iOS coming soon.