Curlew Country is at the heart of the local community. Land managers enable us to carry out close observation of nests on their land and interventions that aim to reverse the lack of breeding success in the local curlew population. Possible curlew territories are identified through ‘citizen science’. Three local Community Wildlife Groups have teams of bird surveyors who use British Trust for Ornithology methodology to survey bird territories from rights of way during the nesting season. Nest finding then starts in earnest with the Curlew Country team out in the territories looking for the curlew nests, that are notoriously difficult to find. Farmers also find a few nests each year and are very keen not to disturb breeding birds if they know where and how to avoid them.
In each of the years 2015 and 2016 only 3 nests out of over 30 nests monitored survived beyond egg stage to hatch chicks. Once the chicks are hatched they are then fitted with radio tags, but to date the chicks have been removed too far away from the nests for there to be a good indication of what may be needed to help them survive. At egg stage the nests have failed mainly due to fox predation. Badgers have also predated a much smaller proportion of nests and the remaining few have failed due to a range of circumstances including trampling by livestock and crow predation.
In 2016, the 3 nests that survived predation were all surrounded by temporary electric fencing recommended to us by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), one of our partners giving technical advice. GWCT knew of a similar curlew project in Germany run by Natlalie Meyer of NABU who had trialed electric fences around curlew nests as predator deterrents for the first time with some success. In 2017 our interventions to reduce mammalian predators included electric fencing and fox control. This resulted in many more chicks hatching successfully, however the number of those that fledged was still very low.
When the chicks have hatched they leave the nest after only a couple of days, in search of insects and other invertebrates to eat. They are very vulnerable to predation at this time, and will travel across large areas in search of food, making them difficult to protect.
This season (2018), we have been granted a licence to headstart curlew chicks. This means that we can collect eggs from wild nests to incubate, and rear the resulting chicks that hatch until they are old enough to release into the wild. We have been taking eggs from the first clutch of eggs, letting the birds fail so that they can have a second attempt at nesting in the wild. This is a steep learning curve for the project, but hopefully the released chicks will give a much needed boost to the population and buy time to find solutions to the wider issues facing curlew.