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A flyaway success for Wiltshire's special bird in 2010

Last modified: 02 November 2010

Stone-curlew at autumn roost on a carefully managed 'stone-curlew plot'

Image: Andy Hay

Conservationists and farmers are celebrating the best breeding season to date for Wessex’s population of rare stone-curlews.

Figures released today by the RSPB confirm that 136 pairs of stone-curlew bred across Wessex in 2010, raising 97 young birds successfully.

Stone-curlews are large wading birds, about the size of a wood pigeon but slimmer, more elegant and with much longer wings.  Their most striking characteristics are their long yellow legs and large yellow eyes, the power of which enables them to feed on insects at night.

Nick Adams, RSPB Wessex Stone-Curlew Project Officer said “Since I started working with stone-curlews in 2005 I have seen the number of breeding pairs in Wessex increase from 93 to 136, a great testament to a lot of hard work, not least by the many farmers who made space for the birds on their land and in their crops.”

The project received a further boost when a new pair was located outside the core breeding areas.

Nick Adams  “Although the birds have increased, the bulk of the population has confined itself to a few core areas, some of which seemed to be bursting at the seams.

“So it was a truly magical moment for me this year to watch a stone-curlew slowly walk up to and sit on its nest on the Marlborough Downs. This is the first confirmed breeding attempt that we are aware in 34 years on this huge area of chalk downland. It’s a major step towards a sustainable stone-curlew population in Wiltshire.”

Stone-curlew live on dry, sparsely vegetated, open ground including farmland. They used to number more than 1,000 breeding pairs in England before habitats were lost to intensive arable farming and forestry after the Second World War.

Paul Buckley, Senior Conservation Officer said “The growing success of our stone-curlew project is evidence that conservation really can deliver results, if conducted with a long term perspective and involving all relevant sectors of society. 

“The RSPB has been working in Wessex for more than thirty years with farmers and landowners, the military and local communities.  We launched our Wiltshire Chalk Country Futurescapes programme two years ago with the aiming of ensuring the survival of stone-curlew and other charismatic species of the Wessex Downs in perpetuity.

“By working in partnership, we aim to link the chalk grasslands and traditional farming landscapes occupied by this magnificent bird so that future generations can continue to enjoy its evocative presence”

The RSPB is grateful for the support of Natural England, MoD Defence Estates, and SITA Trust (Enriching Nature programme) which distributes funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. We are also delighted that Biffaward (through the Landfill Communities Fund) have recently agreed to help fund the next phase of our stone-curlew work in Wessex.

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