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Celebrating 30-year partnership to save stone-curlews in the Brecks

Last modified: 26 February 2015

Two stone-curlews on a stone-curlew plot

30 years of joint conservation work has turned around the fortunes of stone-curlews in the Brecks

Image: Andy Hay

This Friday, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers and conservationists will celebrate 30 years of joint conservation work for stone-curlews in the Brecks, which has turned around the fortunes of this rare and iconic farmland species.

Thirty years ago, ground-nesting stone-curlews were close to UK extinction. After the loss of the majority of their preferred grassland breeding habitats, many of the remaining stone-curlews started nesting on young crops in arable farmland, where further nests and chicks were lost to mechanised farming operations.

By the late 1980s, UK’s population of stone-curlews had fallen by 85 per cent to a historic low of around 160 pairs, with nearly 100 of those in the Brecks.

Since 1985, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers and conservationists have worked together to reverse the decline of the stone curlew in the Brecks. Fewer nests have been accidentally destroyed, allowing more chicks to fledge.

Now, 30 years on, this pioneering landscape-scale conservation partnership has succeeded in nearly trebling the number of pairs of stone-curlews breeding in the area, with nearly 250 pairs recording breeding in the Brecks in 2012- around 70 per cent of them in arable farmland.

Andrew Holland, RSPB Brecks Farmland Advisor and the organiser of Friday’s event said:

“This is our chance to acknowledge the amazing work and dedication of all the people who have worked tirelessly to improve our countryside for wildlife, and to share this achievement with others in the Brecks and beyond.

“Long-term farmland conservation initiatives like this one show that farmers and landowners value and recognise themselves as custodians of wildlife and are keen to play and active role in conservation.

“Wildlife isn’t confined to nature reserves and neither can our efforts to protect it be. If we’re going to succeed in reversing long term species declines and loss of biodiversity, working together with farmers, landowners, and shooting estates, as well as conservation partners, on the scale of the whole landscape is key.”

Helping landowners enter stewardship schemes so they can farm for both food and wildlife has played a significant role in the stone-curlew success story in the Brecks.

“The financial support for farmers provided by various agri-environment schemes over the years has been an important incentive, helping to promote adoption of wildlife-friendly farming practices, and offsetting the costs of creating fallow areas for nesting birds and intervening to protect nests,” said Mr Holland.

“These schemes and the voluntary measures taken by farmers and other landowners are proving that we can manage our landscape to be productive both for people and wildlife.”

Since 1970, the abundance of farmland birds has halved, and declines in farmland birds are replicated in other species.

“If we’re going to celebrate similar conservation successes for other farmland species in the future, we really need to see the government increasing the amount of money available to farmers through agri-environment schemes to support farmers to restore the wildlife that has been lost over the last 50 years,” said Mr Holland.

Looking to the future of stone curlews in the UK, an EU LIFE+ funded project lead by the RSPB is helping to increase safe nesting places for stone-curlews to pave the way for a more sustainable population.

Working with Natural England and landowners, the project is also helping to develop better measures for landowners to help stone-curlews through the new Countryside Stewardship scheme.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP, whose constituency includes a large part of the stone curlew’s range in the Brecks, will be attending Friday’s event as the guest of one of her farming constituents. Speaking in advance of the event Ms Truss said:

“It is great to see the farming community working with the RSPB to support wildlife. Over the past four years I have worked closely with a number of farmers and landowners in South West Norfolk in ensuring a common sense approach is adopted in relation to wildlife on a working farm. It is therefore very positive news that the stone curlew population is growing.”

Farmers and landowners in the Brecks who would like to find out more about what they can do for wildlife on their land can contact Andrew Holland for free advice on 01842 756714/07540 692905 or e-mail

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