Curlews could be lost as a breeding species from southern England within a generation without urgent action to save this charismatic but crisis-hit bird.
The ‘Call of the Curlew’ conference today (February 2), which brings together conservationists, policy-makers, landowners and farmers, will hear how the much-loved bird’s fortunes can be reversed if we take action now.
The curlew’s UK population has almost halved since the mid-1990s, chiefly because of reduced breeding success, strongly linked to predation and the loss of suitable nesting habitat.
In the southern English lowlands, there are possibly only 200 pairs of breeding curlews left.
RSPB conservation officer Phil Sheldrake, who helped organise today’s conference, said: “We have turned around the fortunes of other birds such as cirl buntings and stone curlews in southern England, and we can do the same for the curlew.
“This is one of the largest single-species conferences we have held, the interest and enthusiasm shown has been incredible and if we can harness that it will be a giant step towards securing the call of the curlew for future generations to enjoy.”
Fellow organiser Mary Colwell, who last year walked 500 miles from the west coast of Ireland to Lincolnshire, to highlight the bird’s plight, said: “To lose the curlew from southern England would be to lose part of our heritage.
“This lovely bird and its evocative call are woven into the lives of people. We would be losing more than just another species – they are part of who we are.”
The curlew – properly the Eurasian curlew – is the UK’s largest wading bird and its evocative ‘curlee-curlee’ call is a signature sound of moors and marshes, particularly in the breeding season.
Geoff Hilton, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) head of conservation science, said: “The cry of the curlew has inspired generations of writers and musicians; it is one of those species that, like the crane and the eel, everyone can recognise and it immediately brings to mind wild wetland landscapes.”
In the lowland countryside, the loss of hay meadows and wet grassland has contributed to the curlew’s decline as a breeding species. Good nesting habitat in upland areas has also come under pressure, and overall the curlew’s breeding range in the UK has contracted by roughly 17 per cent in recent years.
The UK hosts roughly a quarter of the world’s breeding curlews and population decline here is having a greater impact than in any other country. The bird is classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the only near threatened species where the UK has a substantial part of the global breeding population.
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For further information, images, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Chris Baker, RSPB Communications Officer, 01392 453299 / 07701 050010 or Mark Simpson, WWT Communications Officer, 01453 891138 / 07825 890590
The ‘Call of the Curlew’ conference takes place at the WWT’s Slimbridge Wetland Centre on Thursday, February 2. Media organisations are invited to attend from 13.00 to 14.00 (or at other times by prior appointment) where conference delegates will be available for interview.
Organisations involved in organising the conference include Curlew Media, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
The curlew’s breeding population in Scotland declined by 55 per cent between 1995 and 2013, and in England by 32 per cent; trends cannot be calculated for Wales or Northern Ireland because the bird now occupies too few places. In the Republic of Ireland there are thought to be barely more than 120 breeding pairs.
Breeding Eurasian curlews should not be confused with wintering Eurasian curlews, where a major influx from Europe means large numbers can be seen in winter, on estuaries and salt marshes all round the UK and Ireland.
The Eurasian curlew is one of eight curlew species. Of them, the Eskimo curlew may be extinct, there has not been a confirmed sighting for about 30 years; the slender-billed curlew is critically endangered and highly likely to become the first European bird to become extinct since the great auk in 1852.
The similarly named stone curlew is an unrelated species.
For information about the RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme see: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-projects/details/400395-curlew-recovery-programme
Tel: 01392 453299
Mobile: 07701 050010
South West Regional Office, 4th Floor (North Block), Broadwalk House, Southernhay West, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1TS