Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer

If winter is great grey waves bellowing against the cold shingle of the Norfolk coast then summer is Breckland. Crisp heaths baked yellow by a clear sky. Heather growing red and purple by the side of bare paths and gorse pods crackling open in the heat. Then the cool of the forest and the luxury of a tree canopy overhead.

Last week I spent a day in the Brecks with the RSPB’s Stone Curlew Recovery Officer, Tim Cowan. Tim is a specialist; his passion is stone curlews. Strange, awkward looking creatures, these birds would be the quiet pupils at the back of the class who secretly are rather loud and clever. Tim knows stone curlews inside out and working with him makes you feel not only incredibly privileged but also that your usual day job is terribly laissez-faire.  

 We drove along sandy paths, the blue spears of vipers bugloss spreading twiggy roots through dry, stony soil. Fields spread to the left and right of us, undulating away through the oily heat haze of mid morning. And there we waited. Pulled up next to a field Tim knew was perfect ground for stone curlews, who dig their pitiful nest-scrapes amongst the stones and lay one or two of their rock sized, dusty coloured eggs. But because stone curlews like open, bare ground in the middle of expansive, flat landscapes, their eggs and chicks are all too much in danger of predation or accidental destruction. But they didn’t use to be. It’s all because of man’s increasing need of these areas for arable fields that has meant that stone curlews haven’t had the space they need to flourish. This is where Tim and his team come in.

They spend months searching out every possible nest site there might be; field after field, heath after heath. And day after day they watch these sites until their necks ache, and make sure the birds come to no harm. Farmers, proud to host stone curlew on their land, plough their fields whilst Tim gathers up the chicks and replaces them when the dangerous work is done.

It’s an arduous task but fantastically rewarding. After a morning spent with our eyes trained to the ground scouring bare fields for an elusive chick we happened upon three stone curlews screeching their peculiar call and a nest, a shallow pool of grey sand into which two tear drop shaped eggs nestled. And then, phenomenally, we heard the chicks inside squeaking back at us and tapping their miniature beaks against their egg shell shields. These two were soon to hatch, so we disappeared. Back to our watching, and our waiting.

Big or small, what could you do to help preserve our wildlife? Go to and become part of our movement to halt the loss of biodiversity.

As featured in the Eastern Daily Press, Saturday 25 June