Curlew Country 2020 – Silver Linings

Curlew Country’s growth and activities have been similar to a start-up enterprise, but with nothing to sell and everything to fund. In recent years we have discovered that our work in Curlew recovery is trail-blazing.  For five years our small team has been delivering beyond its capacity, putting in long unpaid hours on top of the long, paid hours, and smoothing the surface to keep the whirlwind of landscape-scale conservation work progressing.  After the initial shock and short-lived denial that we would not be able to carry out our fieldwork this year, opportunities soon emerged from the shadow of the cloud.

Difficult decisions were made, but the team, mainly contract staff, contributed to the process with pragmatism, despite not knowing at that stage if there would be support for their loss of earnings.  We were excited about training volunteers to help with head-starting and especially keen to find and monitor any returning chicks from the 27 reared and released in 2017 and 2018.  Acute disappointment was tempered by inevitability.

We went into the season short of funding to carry out the work planned.  Now we have the chance to make some more strategic plans for Curlew Country through underpinning its essential work and developing the multiple benefits that Curlew recovery work can deliver.  A smaller team will be:

  • Seeking and applying for funding
  • Working with farming partners on the Facilitation Fund scheme – making short training films on a range of farming and conservation issues and planning more detailed training for the time when the curlew curfew is eventually lifted
  • Collating records of sightings from farmers and volunteers
  • Catching up on the considerable backlog of records and report writing that have fallen by the wayside due to lack of staff resources
  • Training for staff

We are often contacted for help and advice from around the UK and sometimes overseas.  This year, it is heartening to receive enquiries from people out taking exercise, some of whom have noticed curlews for the first time or felt that they have time to take more of an interest.  Locally Curlew spotting has become a family activity among our farming partners during the lock-down and our volunteers are choosing to exercise in areas close to home where they know that they are more likely to be able to report back on curlew activity.  We are launching more online help around World Curlew Day.  Have a look at the Curlew Quiz for basic facts. For more detail on Curlew behaviour the Observation Training Film may help identify what stage in the breeding process Curlews are at. We will get our notes from the training courses held last autumn online as soon as we can.

Photo courtesy of John Crook, Habberley Hero and Curlew Country Supporter.

Every farmer I have spoken with has revelled in the glorious weather, so good for lambing which many of them are, but also mindful of the difficulties of those not so fortunate to have access to our beautiful landscape and forced to stay indoors often with few or no glimpses of this precious seasonal treat.  This is not being smug, it is genuine thoughtfulness.  Several farmers have remarked to me that they understand better the need for those with limited access to the countryside to be out enjoying it as they do routinely.  During our farmers workshops, one of the issues raised has been the minority of visitors walking, cycling and horse-riding who are unaware of the basic Countryside Code and cause problems as a result.  We have put together an online quiz which is still in the trial stages and we would love feedback, so that we can use this more widely when we are able to welcome people back to share our green areas.

I am beguiled by the sun, the swallows, the skylarks, the bees buzzing in the blossom and of course the sound and sight of curlews (however frustrating it is not to be able to investigate them more). Yet this short burst of new life and abundance masks the bigger picture of the Countryside, just as Spring does not seem to respect the mood of Covid-19 – already disrupting, destroying and dominating life and landscapes.  COVID-19 will not dull our determination to save Curlews; support the farmers and land managers that help them; embrace and encourage all those who want to know more or get involved with our work; help others who want to help curlews; and demonstrate the many benefits that curlew recovery can deliver in a landscape.

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