Let’s take a look at what the different project sites have been up to since the project began back in October 2020:
Project Overview – Samantha Lee (Project Manager)
The whole project team really hit the ground running to meet the demands of being ready for the 2021 breeding season including ten new project staff enabling us to scale up our conservation and monitoring efforts across the five project areas. Four of the new recruits were seasonal monitoring officers and alongside 26 volunteers, the project managed to get over 15,200ha surveyed – that’s more than the island of Hoy in Orkney (which also happens to be an RSPB reserve)! Increased monitoring efforts have already given us some successes, an early sign that the conservation work we are doing within project areas may already be having a positive effect. Major habitat works are happening over this winter, with project teams working alongside local landowners and farmers to improve breeding habitat for our returning curlews.
Next year will be equally as exciting; there’ll be more project activity engaging with local communities, increasing our volunteer teams, supporting curlew champions, undertaking a headstarting feasibility study for the island of Ireland and doing more in-depth monitoring using radio tags to follow the outcome of chicks within some of our project areas. Another busy year! But one full of optimism that we can reverse the fortunes for curlew.
Thanks to all our staff, volunteers, farmers, and contractors who made this project get off to a flying start.
Antrim Plateau – Neal Warnock (Senior Conservation Officer)
The 2021 breeding season proved to be one of the most successful on record for curlews in the Glenwherry area of the Antrim Hills. Our field team of five dedicated staff recorded 48 pairs across 5,800 hectares of upland farmland. The team followed 39 of these pairs throughout the breeding season and are delighted to report a productivity rate of 0.72 chicks per pair (>0.6 required for population growth). Much of this success is due to increased predator management, including the use of nest protection fences to reduce the impact of mammalian predation. The team erected nine such fences during the breeding season and are delighted to report that 89% of nests protected by a fence successfully hatched chicks. It was also a great year for breeding snipe on project farms, with 256 pairs recorded. None of this success would be possible without the continued support and enthusiasm of more than 80 local farmers.
Lough Erne Lowlands – Amy Burns (RSPB Lower Lough Erne Project Officer) and Catriona Grant (Upper Lough Erne Project Officer)
At RSPB Lower Lough Erne we had one of our most successful seasons to date on the reserve, locating 11 curlew nests and recording thousands of images and videos on remote cameras to monitor nests and productivity. We have some of the highest densities of breeding curlew in the UK, with 230ha of lowland wet grassland supporting 37 pairs this season. During early Autumn we sailed an excavator across the lough on our livestock cot to Trasna Island, where we created some ideal chick rearing features.
The first year of Curlew LIFE brought with it a new monitoring officer and the beginning of predator control role out at Upper Lough Erne. Whilst our breeding season saw some alarming drops in curlew numbers, we believe that with the upcoming scrub removal, hedgerow lowering and potential for nest protection fencing in 2022, the Curlew LIFE programme has arrived just in time! This autumn, we were also able to offer 75ha of free rush cutting to local landowners to create the perfect sward for our returning waders in the spring.
RSPB Geltsdale and Hadrian’s Wall – Steve Garnett (Moorland Warden) and Christina Taylor (Project Officer)
At RSPB Geltsdale Reserve, with the help of Fell Foot Forward (a North Pennines AONB project) we purchased some cattle collars. This innovative technology allows for more flexible conservation grazing management. Through use of the collars and mechanical cutting this year we have further improved habitat conditions for breeding curlews on the reserve. We also tweaked our long-standing monitoring programme so that it most effectively supports project aims and our contractor team carried out predator control across a wide area of the reserve.
At Hadrian’s Wall, thanks to the enthusiasm of local farmers and partner organisations we are developing a programme of habitat improvements including vegetation cutting and wetland creation. Our amazing new team of volunteers helped us deliver our first year of monitoring across twelve farms, giving us a baseline of information which will support our future work. We look forward to expanding our monitoring programme into new areas next year. Our emerging community engagement programme will help us connect with the local community and visitors to the area to raise awareness and encourage others to get involved.
RSPB Insh Marshes – Thijs Claes (Project Officer)
Kicking off with a thorough review of historical curlew data on Insh Marshes, the project team could not wait to start cracking some of the arising questions in the following breeding season. We established thorough survey protocols to determine baseline nest hatching success, habitat suitability and predator activity. In the meantime, the reserve management team finished off last year’s rush management, started removing 6ha of scrub from potential breeding habitat and already improved the soil condition of feeding grounds by spreading lime on an area of 10ha. We acquired new camera trapping equipment just in time for our three newly trained volunteers to help us out with the predator and nest monitoring.
After a slow start we recorded a whopping 79 curlew pairs on the project site. The breeding season got disturbed by three late spring floods however, sadly estimated to have caused nearly half of the first brood attempts fail. On the other hand, the protection provided by the floodplain and our consistent predator control effort helped to achieve zero predation events at monitored nests. There are various opportunities to learn more about the methods we used and discover our first results, including digital and in person talks in the local communities. After digitising and analysing the data, our monitoring protocols were reviewed and we sourced extra funding for more research materials, habitat management work and expanding our volunteer team. The reserve management team already achieved our target of scrub control by clearing the area connecting two key hotspots for breeding curlew. A big win, which benefits we will be carefully monitoring over the course of the project.
Ysbyty Ifan and Hiraethog – Lucy Foster (Project Officer)
We have been busy over the last few months talking to farmers about curlew conservation and getting agreements to undertake habitat improvement works. We’ve been securing consents from Natural Resources Wales, instructing contractors and hoping to get started on works in early December. Work includes a 3 km anti-predator fence, felling of shelter belts (plantation woodland) rush cutting, scrape creation, enabling grazing and organising grazing agreements and peatland restoration works. We’ve been really pleased to see the level of engagement and willingness from farmers and their genuine enthusiasm to get curlew back on their land.
We have also had a big volunteer recruitment drive for surveyors for next survey season. We have engagement events with Coleg Llysfasi, the local agricultural college and are in the process of setting up an exciting music project with local primary schools through Menter Iaith Conwy. We also helped with the launch of the Wales Curlew Action plan with happened 22 November with Ministers from all three parties expressing their support. As part of this, two videos were produced which included a Cri’r Gylfinir / CurlewLIFE project farmer speaking about the curlew on his land. For regular updates follow us on Twitter @CriGylfinir.