Notes for Farmers and Landowners
If you are unsure of how to proceed following a Curlew sighting, one of the best options is to record it. This could form part of an important data set leading to information on longer term Curlew Recovery. You can report sightings using our online bird form here or get in touch with your local county bird recorder. If there is another Curlew project that we know of working within the area, we can try to put you in touch with them, or you can check the Curlew Call website here for a list of different Curlew groups. If you are hoping to try and contact a landowner, but do not have details, it may be best to approach the local advisor for the National Farmers Union, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trusts, Natural England, or Country Landowners Association for advice on how to proceed.
Contrary to public and media claims that farmers are destructive to wildlife, in our experience farmers are very fond of waders including Curlews and will not intentionally disturb a nest or chicks. If you think you have found a nest or evidence of chicks in a farmer’s field, trying to tell the landowner its location is the best course of action. Often failure from agricultural operations occurs because the farmers simply do not know the nest’s exact location. If you want to mark a nest, do so by marks against the boundary or other distinguishing features away from the nest. Marking a nest nearby can attract avian predators.
Breeding Curlews can easily be disturbed by humans, even by those with good intentions. This can lead to breeding failure in some circumstances. Curlews are shy and sensitive and will try to lure potential predators, including humans, away from their nests or chicks. Please see our Curlew Observation training video for more information. The first decision to make if a nest is found is if it is essential to go the nest, potentially leaving a trail for predators to follow. If a nest will be otherwise safe from agricultural activities and a fence is not to be erected, it will be best left undisturbed.
Most farmers we have worked with are happy to leave a small section of their grass crop uncut if they know a nest is there – a minimum of 10m in each direction from the nest is recommended. When approaching a farmer, it is essential to bear in mind the above comments and the difficulty of achieving success, the possible impact on the farm business and, if there is no predation control in place, the implications of the lack of this protection intervention. An electric fence based on this specification may also be considered. It will require maintenance in a way that is not intrusive to the incubating Curlews. A fence will deter most mammalian predators but will not deter avian predators, however it may increase vegetation cover within the fenced area compared to grazed areas outside. Curlews will incubate eggs for 28 to 30 days. An area of unmown grass around a nest site can become more attractive to predators and therefore more vulnerable to predation.
Protecting a nest site has fewer financial implications than protecting chicks, as the chicks leave the nest within 48 hours of hatching, and cover will start searching the wider area for food. If the habitat in which they nested provides sufficient surface invertebrate food for chicks and wetter areas for adults to forage for soil borne invertebrates, Curlew families are likely to stay closer to the nest site. At this stage they become far more difficult to locate. Any attempts to do so could quickly lead to accidental trampling under foot. Curlew Country tracks chicks by attaching radio tags to them which emit a signal, but extreme caution and care has to be exercised when tracking. When working with farmers to leave an area of crop to protect chicks, it has often taken long periods of observation from a hide (e.g. a car). Watching the Curlew family’s habits can help to establish where the chicks are likely to be so that an area of crop can be left uncut. The area then left is usually about 8 to 10 acres (3-4ha). Chicks can take about 7 weeks to fully fledge.
The natural reaction of adults is to lure danger away from the chicks, so sighting adults in alarm mode will not necessarily indicate the location of the chicks. Experts can sometimes tell where some of the chicks are, from adult behaviour, typically adults flying low over the nearby area (again probably not the exact site) alarm calling or making low chick call noises.
The natural reaction of chicks is to hunker down to hide from danger, even when fledged, so they are unlikely to move out of the path of mowing machinery or other dangers. Their response to danger can also depend upon adjacent habitat. If the adjacent field provides sufficient cover, they may move there over a period of time, but if it is closely grazed or heavily stocked, they are less likely to move to a space with less cover. Using smaller mowers working more slowly will give the Curlews more time to move out of the area. The field should then be cut at the furthest edge away from the Curlews across the field to the area in which they are in. It may be worth cutting a couple of strips next to the area of grass to be left to encourage them to stay in the area and not drift toward to the mowing area.
The Curlew Country team knows from raw experience how difficult it is to know that there are eggs or nests to be saved. Curlew Country is campaigning to try and ensure that new agri-environment schemes will provide adequate support for farmers in the future and to implement effective predation control for breeding waders.* We receive many requests for help and advice and are in the process of writing up notes following training sessions we held last year. We will continue to post updates and if you would like to be the first to receive these please sign up to our mailing list.
*To prevent its local population from dying out Curlew Country has pioneered head-starting Curlew – taking eggs from wild nests and rearing the chicks until fully fledged, before releasing them into their natural environment. This is not a solution to long-term sustainable Curlew Recovery, but an interim measure which can buy time until farmer support and predation control are in place.