Curlews are one of the UK’s most-loved birds and for many farmers and crofters its arrival heralds the start of spring. But sadly, this wading bird is in serious trouble; in the past two decades the UK breeding population has halved, with the most serious losses in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The only chance they have for survival is if farmers and crofters make more space for them on their land and are given the necessary financial support to do so. Luckily, there are already some fantastic farmers and crofters helping to restore the fortunes of the curlew.
Curlew on a wall. Image: Tim Melling
In today’s blog we hear from some of those in England and Scotland who are trying to bring the curlew back from the brink; tomorrow, we’ll be finding out how the curlew has inspired farmers in Wales and Northern Ireland, the two countries where the bird is most at risk.
Neil Heseltine farms Hill Top Farm in Malham, North Yorkshire where he was born and raised. Passionate about environmentally sustainable agriculture, he is on the steering group of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
He says: “The curlew is one of my favourite birds; it’s always good to see them and hear their distinctive call. They are synonymous with the Yorkshire Dales and there are a good number of them around here so I think we might be bucking the national trend.
“There are quite a few nesting curlews on the hilly parts of the farm but my big aim is to get them breeding successfully in my hay meadow, which I am managing in a traditional way to help waders. I feel there has been a reduction in the number of curlews in my enclosed farmland and I want to get them back.
“I’m closing the meadow up in May and won’t be mowing until mid-August so I can be certain that any chicks have fledged. I would urge other farmers to push back their cutting dates until July or later if possible as this could play an important role in reversing the fortunes of the curlew. ”
In Shetland, crofter Hazel McKenzie, uses traditional agricultural methods to maintain curlew numbers, together with whole range of other wildlife that has been present on her land for the past five decades.
‘’Our croft, Aithsetter, has been in environmentally friendly schemes since 2000. We have been restoring our peatland to maintain numbers of waders and other birds too. Our newly installed wader scrapes have been popular with oystercatchers and curlews and by taking part in the RSPB bird counts, we monitor what is happening on our croft. We take care to look after our croft - growing some traditional crops like Shetland kale and neeps and these encourage the bird life.
“Our traditional meadows are a great habitat for wildlife and the flora & fauna that I found there 45+ years ago, is still there.’’
Hamish McIntosh runs Milton Farm in the Scottish Highlands village of Tomintoul.
‘’I love to hear the sound of the curlew on the farm, which is the sign that spring is on the way. It’s a helpful reminder when there is still snow on the ground in Tomintoul! I have been managing the rushes on the farm through agri-environment schemes for a number of years and I’m now involved in the Peesie project - funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund - to help ensure the curlew and other waders keep coming back to the farm for future generations to enjoy.’’
It’s not just farmers and crofters who can help the curlew, you can to. Find out how here.