Donate Online The Curlew Recovery Project

The Curlew Recovery Project is a new initiative facilitated by Wild Oxfordshire and funded by Natural England over three years, starting in 2021.  The project is focused on action by volunteer fieldworkers working closely with farmers to increase the breeding success of our remaining Curlews, across a network of sites across the Upper Thames. 

The Curlew’s wonderful ‘bubbling’ call is one of the most evocative sounds of springtime in meadows and pastures across Oxfordshire.  Something we cherish, but which is sadly under threat. 

The Curlew is arguably the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK, where nearly half the breeding population has been lost over the last 25 years and where range contraction has seen Curlews disappear from many traditional sites. 

© Mike Pollard

Threats to the Curlew

The Curlews face many threats including:

  • changes to the management of their grassland breeding sites such as earlier hay or silage cuts, greater use of fertilisers and faster growing grasses
  • an increase in the numbers of generalist predators
  • increased human disturbance

Each year most Curlew nests are lost before hatching, and very few young survive to fledging.

It is well known that many Curlew nests fail because generalist predators, especially Foxes and Badgers, find the nests and eat the eggs.  Pioneering work in Germany showed that protecting nests using temporary electric fencing can significantly increase hatching success and this approach is now being adopted by projects in England, spearheaded by Curlew Country

The Project

The need for urgent action to help our local Curlews was a major driving force behind the creation of The Upper Thames Wader Group recently.  This partnership currently comprises RSPB, Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Environment Agency, River Thame Conservation Trust and Banbury Ornithological Society.  Each organisation focuses on a particular part of the Upper Thames, co-ordinating volunteer fieldworkers, as well as supporting farmers with advice.  Wild Oxfordshire provides vital support including volunteer training, communications and organising the supply of fencing kits.

We also link into national working groups, including the well-established Curlew Forum and Curlew Recovery Partnership, whose websites are great source of information.

Our approach in Oxfordshire is to develop a team of volunteers who can locate Curlews when they return to our area in February and March and then find the nests as soon as possible in April and May. 

As soon as a nest is found, a 20m x 20m temporary electric fence is erected by a team of 2-4 volunteers.  This takes about half an hour and the Curlew quickly returns to start incubating again.  The fence is maintained by weekly checks, including grass trimming and, all being well, about a month later the chicks hatch and leave the protected area under close parental supervision! 

Image: Curlew nest with temporary electric fence, 2021. © Mike Pollard

There are still many perils ahead for the young Curlews – including predators, floods, grass cutting and disturbance by people and dogs.

If all goes well, about a month after hatching the young Curlews take their first flight, and a couple of weeks later they will leave the breeding area and head back to the coast where they will spend the rest of the year.

© Mike Pollard

Want to find out more or get involved? Contact Mike Pollard – mike@wildoxfordshire.org.uk

This project would not be possible without the generous support of Natural England and the dedication of dozens of Curlew Recovery volunteers, farmers and supporters.  Thank you.