Curlews returning to an uncertain future

March 2022

Mike Pollard - Curlew Recovery Project Lead

As winter tilts towards spring our Curlews make their annual migration back from muddy coastal shores to damp and often muddy pastures across the Upper Thames. About a hundred birds (roughly 10% of England’s lowland Curlews) will seek out their traditional meadowland territories and prepare for the huge challenge they face in raising enough youngsters each year to sustain their population. But with numbers falling year by year, how much longer will the wonderful sound of ‘bubbling’ Curlews echo across our valleys?

Curlew - (c) Mike Pollard

The Curlew’s best-known champion, Mary Colwell (@curlewcalls, author of ‘Curlew Moon’ and Chair of the Curlew Recovery Partnership), wrote recently ‘It seems like everything affects Curlews and contributes to their appalling lack of breeding success. Climate change, urbanisation, development of land, farming practices, forestry, renewable energy, outdoor leisure, dog walking, the increase in meso-predators, and the conflicts around gamebird shooting. As is often said, if we can’t save birds as loved as Curlews, what hope is there for so much else?’

2021 was the first year of our Curlew Recovery Project. Funded by Natural England, Wild Oxfordshire’s role is to bring together and facilitate a partnership of organisations, volunteers, and farmers, all working towards reversing the fortunes of these much-loved birds. With breeding success currently very low our current activity focuses on finding as many Curlew nests as we can and protecting them from mammalian predators using temporary electric fencing. Research has shown that predation by foxes and badgers is a major causes of nest failure and our experience so far indicates that protecting nests in this way can greatly increase hatching success. In 2021 we located 50 pairs across the Upper Thames and were able to find and protect eleven nests with electric fencing. Most protected nests hatched, and this led to more sightings of fledged chicks than we have seen in recent years - most notably, nine youngsters were seen in flight together at Otmoor.

One of the juvenile Curlews (right hand bird) that fledged in 2021 thanks, in part, to temporary electric fencing, with an adult male

In 2022 we will be stepping up our efforts further and aiming to protect more Curlew nests. Staff and volunteers from our partner organisations are already getting prepared, making sure training is organised and fencing equipment is in place. It is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless when you witness the next generation of Curlews making their first flights over the Oxfordshire countryside.

Electric fencing around a nest being checked and the grass trimmed to prevent shorting.

This level of intervention is a ‘sticking plaster’ in the toolbox of Curlew conservation. What they need in the longer term is for all those involved in shaping the future of our countryside to make sure nature recovery strategies and agri-environment funding deliver the extensive mosaic of nature-rich grassland habitats they need. The Curlew should one of the very best indicators we have of the success or failure of our collective efforts to reverse the seeping away of nature across our county.

To get involved email

Join us to celebrate World Curlew Day, 21 April 2022 – watch out on our social media channels

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