Farmers needed to help decline of much-loved bird

A curlew sitting on a wall. Photo by Tim Melling.
A curlew sitting on a wall. Photo by Tim Melling.
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The RSPB is calling on farmers in Bowland to give a home to nesting curlews.

Curlews are a much-loved part of the hills and moors of Northern England during the spring and summer months. For many farmers, their arrival heralds the start of spring.

But this wading bird is in serious trouble and the call of the curlew could be lost 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 over the past two decades, their numbers here have almost halved.

Luckily, Bowland farmers can take a few simple steps to help reverse this serious decline.

Gavin Thomas, RSPB Conservation Advisor, provides specialist advice to farmers in Bowland about how they can help wildlife thrive alongside their agricultural businesses.

He said: “Traditional hay meadows are excellent for nesting curlews. By shutting these meadows up in April and putting off mowing them until late June, farmers can give curlews enough time to nest and raise their chicks.

“Keeping an eye open for curlews can mean the survival of a nest, rather than being needlessly crushed when using heavy machinery in fields. Mowing meadows from the centre outwards can help push any flightless chicks out of the way of machinery and into the safety of neighbouring fields.”

Emma Robinson and Ian O’Reilly run Lower Gazegill Farm at Rimington where they farm a range of livestock including pigs, sheep and cows in an environmentally sustainable way. It has been farmed by the Robinson family for around 500 years.

Emma said: “Our hay meadows are safe nesting sites for curlews. They’re cut late allowing time for the curlews to raise their chicks. These meadows are full of different types of grasses and wildflowers, which attract a wide range of insects that provide food for the birds. Curlews have nested at our farm for centuries and it’s imperative that we give them a home here or our children will inherit a land that is barren.”

The dramatic decline of curlews 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 changes in the management of agricultural land and increased predation from foxes and crows.

The RSPB is running a recovery programme to test whether a combination of habitat management and predator control can be effective in halting the curlew decline across the wider countryside. Farmers interested in helping curlews and other wildlife on their land can call Gavin on 07814 462429 or email him at gavin.thomas@rspb.org.uk.