Last week, the first stone-curlew of the year was seen at Winterbourne Downs in Wiltshire. This bird, which probably spent the winter in southern Spain or north Africa, returned to a British landscape which, over the past four years, has been much improved for stone-curlews thanks to a collaboration between the RSPB, Natural England and local farmers.
Securing the stone-curlew, funded by EU LIFE+, began in 2013 with the aim of making the UK’s population of stone-curlews self-sustaining, and replace labour-intensive conservation methods previously employed after the species became at risk from extinction.
There’s something primeval about the stone-curlew: those long, reptilian legs, that unwavering, yellow stare. They also command a brilliant array of nicknames, from ‘goggle-eyed plover’ to the less catchy ‘bull-nosed swollen-knee’.
The UK population came under threat in the 20th century, falling as low as just 168 pairs in 1991 due to changes in land use. And further back, they would be caught and hired out to people suffering from jaundice, who believed looking into a stone-curlew’s yellow eye would cure them.
Homes for stone-curlews
Stone-curlews like to nest on farmland, on stony ground, and rely on camouflage – which is a great tactic for hiding from predators, but not a lot of use against an approaching tractor. But, by creating fallow plots in their fields, farmers and stone-curlews can co-exist harmoniously.
Nearly 300 of these nest sites are now created by farmers each year, with support from stewardship schemes, and over 3,000 hectares of grassland habitat – the size of a small city – is now being restored to create the right conditions for stone-curlews. With that, 144 more chicks fledged in 2015-16 compared to 2012-13 – all excellent news.
With these measures now in place, and with continued support from government schemes, we hope the UK’s stone-curlew population will become self-sustaining within five years.
Hopefully the Winterbourne bird, and any young it may have, will be one of many to benefit from the success of this fantastic collaboration between farmers and conservationists.
Find out more about visiting Winterbourne Downs, with its beautiful meadows and farmland wildlife.
“Join a local RSPB Group, you will meet people with a common interest!” said my Father after I had moved 200 miles across the country from Devon to Surrey. He was right!
And so Mary Braddock, and her husband Dave, began their local group adventure. But, just what are local groups and how can you get involved?
Here is Mary and Dave’s local group story:
Less than a year after joining the North West Surrey Group I was on the committee managing publicity and completely amazed at the enthusiasm radiating from this group of people!
It soon became obvious we’d joined a group who enjoy birdwatching, help the RSPB fundraise and who learn more about nature from the RSPB. But they all look after their bit of the environment and get together on a monthly basis to share, laugh and learn from the array of speakers invited to Indoor meetings.
In due course, Dave became Indoor Leader, organising that all important speaker list and I became Group Leader just as my nursing career escalated.
Of course it wasn’t all indoors! There were lots of different outdoor trips to explore the local area’s wildlife – and even some trips further afield too.
Dave joined me after I had led the Group for 10 years and we continued as a duo leading the Group for another five years. We managed fundraising, gathered RSPB memberships, helped share RSPB messages, and we celebrated the Group’s 30th and 40th birthdays.
But most of all we had fun and met some lifelong friends… so you see my wise old Dad was right!
Volunteers like Mary and Dave run all RSPB local groups. Their story gives you a flavour of what our local groups involve, so why not see what your local group offers? Give it a go – Mary’s Dad would encourage it!