Protecting special sites to save the curlew

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Keep up to date with the latest wildlife and nature news in Scotland. Regular blogs from RSPB Scotland's conservation teams across the country. Writing about Scotland's amazing wildlife & natural environment.

Protecting special sites to save the curlew

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Protecting special sites to save the curlew

All this week we are celebrating our most special places for nature by bringing you a series of exciting blogs about Scotland’s amazing protected areas. Today we hear from Isobel Mercer, RSPB Scotland Policy Officer, about why we need for more nature sites to protect the wonderful curlew.


Curlew, credit: Andy Hay

As well as being Protected Areas Week it is also Curlew Crisis Month, giving us the perfect opportunity to talk about why we need more special sites to protect the wonderful curlew.

The Eurasian curlew is one of our most easily recognisable and best loved wading bird species in the UK, but it is in serious trouble – we have lost half of our breeding curlews since 1990.

Protected areas are extremely important for curlews, which have suffered from habitat loss as activities like agriculture, forestry and development have increased in areas that are suitable for them to live and breed. Curlews rely on coastal wetlands and wet grasslands and moorlands; sites created to protect curlews can conserve these habitats, allowing populations to be maintained or recover. This leads to more successful breeding rates over time.

Breeding curlews are already protected by a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in the UK. It is vital that these sites are well-managed for the curlews that they protect, and that work is undertaken to better connect these sites with other protected areas. 

This is a great start but we need to do more. There are currently no Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for breeding curlews in Scotland. SPAs, which are recognised as being internationally important and are protected under European law.  They offer the strongest level of protection from development and other land-use change. The species and habitats in SPAs can only be harmed in very specific and rare circumstances, and even then any damage must be properly compensated for. As a European migratory species, curlews qualify to be protected by this type of nature site. However, although some SPAs have been classified for non-breeding curlews the lack of SPAs for breeding curlews is a serious oversight given that the UK is home to more than a quarter of all the world’s breeding curlews.

Curlew, credit: Eleanor Bentall

A review of the UK SPA network was carried out in 2016, and found significant gaps for a number of species, including breeding curlew. The Scottish Government needs to uphold its international responsibility to protect these wonderful birds by identifying hotspots for breeding curlews in Scotland and classifying them as SPAs. We mustn’t lose the beautiful bubbling call of the curlew from our countryside.

Click here to learn more about the plight of the curlew, and what we can do to save them.

You can help curlews by donating to our Curlew Just Giving page. All the money will go directly to fund habitat management work, specifically designed to meet the needs of curlew.


  • It appears that the Scottish Government is upholding it's international responsibility to the Curlew by shooting lots of Ravens. Of course, that won't make a whit of difference to the Curlew but it will please one section of society, who purport to like waders, but I suspect hate Ravens far more.