Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saving the curlew in Shropshire

Today is the first ever World Curlew Day, so it's a good one to write about the Curlew Country project in Shropshire and Powys.
The project works thanks to its close collaboration with farmers and land managers who describe the first evocative bubbling of returning curlew to be a herald of spring.  Farmers describe memories of hay meadows from which "curlew and peewits rose in clouds". 
The Curlew Country project has been trying to establish why these long lived birds (they can exceptionally live for 20 or 30 years) are now failing to breed successfully on the farmland habitat they nest in outside moorland and upland areas.  A  Nest Monitoring Project in the local study area has deployed cameras, used thermal data loggers and close observation techniques. 
During the years 2015 and 2016 no chicks were successfully reared from the nests monitored.  Based on our findings we are now acting fast to intervene to try and save the population of about 40 breeding pairs within the local trial area, and gaining valuable information to help other similar curlew projects.
The call of the curlew is immensely atmospheric and reminds me of walking in the Stiperstones in May. I knew I was getting high up when I began to hear it. The curlew is an estuary bird, but it haunts upland moors too.

Now it is under threat in Shropshire, and there is a worrying precedent. The quotation above mentions peewits, which are better known as lapwings.

When the children in Malcolm Saville's Mystery at Witchend (published in 1943) set up the Lone Pine Club, they found it natural to adopt the call of the peewit as their secret sign.

But Robert Smart, who knew Saville and published walking books about the Shropshire hills, once told me that it was years since he had seen the bird on the Long Mynd.

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