We started the first year of the Curlew Life project with a rewarding monitoring season on RSPB Scotland, Insh Marshes. The first results confirm that the reserve is a curlew haven, but our work is far from over.  We will further improve our habitat management and hope to engage local communities in the w(i/a)der landscape. Preparations to collect more information on curlew behaviour and chick survival rates have also started – and you could help with that! Read along to explore the encaptivating story of curlew on our floodplain. You might discover some exciting opportunities to join us on our mission to establish a future with lots of curlew for people to enjoy.

When the first curlew prospects the area, all doubts of the reserve management team evaporate in synchrony with the last spring floods. The breeding season is closing in and there are only a few weeks left to make sure the habitat is in good condition. Soon, hundreds of wader pairs will use the marshes to produce their offspring. Time for the project officer, reserve staff and dedicated volunteers to collect valuable information on the current habitat, curlew numbers, territory success and predator populations.

Watching the curlew breeding season unfold on Insh Marshes is as dramatic a story as you can imagine. Natural river and floodplain dynamics contribute to an optimal vegetation structure that camouflages and protects ground nesting birds from both avian and mammalian predators. Spring floods can increase the suspense by delaying the breeding season or add drama by submerging nests.

Figure 1: The second curlew nest of the season, dangerously close to rising water. ©Thijs Claes

Some generalist predators still deem themselves crafty enough to fill their belly with the eggs of a species in sharp decline. Wader densities on Insh Marshes are still relatively high however, allowing effective mobbing behaviour to quickly reduce the culprit’s confidence.  Although not “waterproof”, relying on these natural processes seems to work in our landscape.

In contrast to the steep decline of curlew numbers in Scotland and the rest of the UK, curlew densities are stable on the site and the first results show promising nest success rates. In the next breeding season, we hope to answer some more vital questions. How do chicks move around in our landscape? Does it also protect the chicks sufficiently against the predators, or are extra measures justified? We recorded five predation events on chicks before they could fledge this year.

You can help us understand and enjoy this spectacle by joining our efforts. Volunteer profiles can range from looking for curlew nests, practical habitat management, overseeing the trail camera monitoring or helping us with data entry. Our project officer Thijs Claes will be happy to elaborate, so please consider getting in touch. In the meantime, we will crack on establishing the natural processes supporting curlew on Insh Marshes.

Figure 2: The grazing management on the Spey floodplain is supported by topping and shrub control by RSPB Staff and volunteers to sustain this key breeding area for a variety of species, including curlew. ©Willie Anderson


Thijs Claes

Curlew Life project officer (RSPB Scotland, Insh Marshes)

Telephone: 07920 818059

Email: Thijs.claes@rspb.org.uk