Over in the east of our region lies the UK’s largest area of chalk downland, a special habitat that sparkles in summer with the blooms of many miniature flowering grassland plants, whose nectar attracts butterflies including small blues and marbled whites.  Protecting and re-creating more of this special habitat is one of the RSPB’s priorities – read about progress to save chalk downland on our nature reserves in Wiltshire in the latest edition of our Chalk Country newsletter.

We’ve been working with farmers, landowners, the army and other defence organisations for more than 30 years to save stone-curlews in Wessex.

  This weird `goggle-eyed plover’ is a nocturnal wading bird and summer migrant to the UK (Wessex and the Brecks) that breeds on dry ground – including arable fields and chalk downland.  Important areas for it are on and around Salisbury Plain Training Area and Porton Down – which are also where the biggest areas of chalk grassland remain.  Farmers have worked in partnership with the RSPB to create suitable breeding habitat, including special fallow plots, which are available within agri-environment schemes. Without this work, and the efforts of our field staff and volunteers each summer to protect the camouflaged eggs and chicks, many breeding attempts would fail.  Last year was another productive season – 91 chicks fledged from the 130 pairs we monitored in Wessex – but we need to find ways of making the birds less reliant on human interventions to save their nests.

But while things are looking better for stone-curlews, our other curlew faces a much more uncertain future. The wonderful bubbling cry of the common curlew could be lost – the UK’s breeding population of this large brown wader with its spectacular long curved bill has dropped by more than 40% in recent decades.  As part of work to help this bird by targeting land management (it breeds in traditional grasslands such as haymeadows but many of these have been lost to intensive management such as silaging), the RSPB is appealing for people to report sightings (or hearings!) of curlews in Wiltshire. e birds less reliant on human interventions to save their nests. 

None of the RSPB work to help farmland birds would be possible without the cooperation and enthusiasm of many individual farmers and landowners.  Henry Edmunds, whose farms straddles the Wiltshire/Hampshire border, explains how he cares for and encourages his lapwings.  While numbers of lapwings in the UK increase in winter when continental migrants seek refuge here, numbers of breeding birds have fallen and they face similar problems to stone-curlews in finding suitable and safe nesting habitat that is close to grazed pasture where the parents walk their chicks after hatching.  For a sustainable future for lapwings, we need to have agri-environment schemes to enable farmers to provide fallow plots for nesting close to grazed pasture where the chicks can feed until they fledge.

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