The evocative call of the Eurasian Curlew is a unique and special sound that could be a thing of the past if sufficient action is not taken to prevent the decline of this iconic species. My own local area, on the north Essex coast, still has a good deal of suitable habitat for their overwintering and breeding and I love peering at them through the binoculars across the marshes on the farm. However, this is far from the case everywhere. For the wider Curlew and Godwit family, several species are threatened with extinction. Over half of them are of global conservation concern, with two (Eskimo Curlew and Slender-billed Curlew) critically endangered. The Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit, all found in the UK, are globally near threatened.
The loss of non-breeding habitats is mainly to blame, namely suitable coastal estuaries and wetlands that are undisturbed. Coastal areas are often ripe for development and therefore huge amounts of this habitat continues to disappear. The Yellow Sea in China and Korea is a particularly important area of habitat that is threatened. It is a vital place for migratory birds to pass through between their northern breeding grounds and southern non-breeding areas, such as India and New Zealand. In the Yellow Sea, a quarter of the mudflats have been lost since the 1980s. In Europe drainage of marshes and intensification of agriculture in certain areas, along with the increase in population of predators, has all led to the decline in population.
What can farmers do?
Farmers can take action to help the curlew, especially by providing traditional hay meadows for nesting curlews and not cutting meadows between April and late June. The shift towards silage and a greater number of cuts each year has reduced the number of meadows used just for hay making and the curlew has suffered as a result. Maintenance of damp rush pasture is also a good habitat for curlew. Control of corvids is also beneficial.
40km Challenge for the Curlew
In order to raise awareness of the plight of the curlew, a few young naturalists, including blogger James Common, are walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks this summer, a 40km trek through difficult terrain. They will be raising money for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and their ‘Curlew Appeal’. It’s a great cause, and if you can donate please visit their justgiving page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/James-Common2