The Green Recovery Challenge Fund, was established by the UK Government to kick-start nature recovery, create green jobs and tackle climate change. One project to receive Green Recovery funding was the Curlew Recovery Northern England which aimed to support work to halt the decline of curlew in two priority landscapes, RSPB Geltsdale & Hadrian’s Wall and the Forest of Bowland.  The project aimed to help farms to restore land and improve habitat condition for breeding curlew and to enable community involvement from local villages though volunteering and other engagement.   

As we approach the end of this year long project Conservation Advisor, Hilary McGuire for Forest of Bowland reflects on the work that has been achieved and consider how to build upon these achievements to ensure a lasting legacy. 

I helped to put the project together, scope out interest, and have supported our Project Officer and Research Assistant in their roles over the past 11 months.  

The project got going in Bowland in March 2021 when our Curlew Project Officer, Philip, and our Research Assistant, Catherine, started their roles. Philip was out on farms straight away developing ideas for wet feature creation and vegetation management to benefit breeding curlew. Catherine spent a few weeks on research before starting the breeding season surveys in April.

Wet scrape creation © Hilary McGuire

Ground works had to be put on hold during the 2021 breeding season to avoid disturbance, but this was a busy time for our team of volunteer surveyors who surveyed an impressive 47 farms across the Bowland AONB. Our volunteers found 157 pairs of curlew, as well as 312 pairs of lapwing, 88 pairs of oystercatcher, 29 pairs of redshank and 41 pairs of Snipe across these farms. Curlew numbers were down slightly from 2019, with the other four species remaining relatively stable.  

Curlew productivity monitoring was carried out for the first time in Bowland across 13 farms. Of these, 7 pairs fledged chicks but only 3 of these pairs managed to fledge enough chicks to maintain a sustainable curlew population. We will continue this monitoring in 2022 and work with farmers to help the curlew on their farms raise more chicks. Factors including high predation pressure, insufficient high-quality habitat, and weather can all impact breeding success. 

Catherine’s research project investigated the link between parasite management practices in cattle, particularly the use of wormers, on the abundance and diversity of dung invertebrates available for foraging wader chicks. Catherine’s research covered 10 farms in Bowland, with parasite management practices ranging from fully organic, to low input, to conventional. The research report is not yet finalised but Catherine’s initial results indicate that dung invertebrate populations are healthier where wormers are not used, however we were unable to establish a link between this and curlew breeding productivity as the productivity was so low in 2021 due to other factors as mentioned above. Catherine will spend the next few weeks finishing the project write-up to be shared with partners and farmers in the area. Catherine’s project was delivered with the support of participating farmers and LLM Farm Vets, who are based close to Bowland.

Dung beetles © Hilary McGuire

Philip’s work is wrapping up now, with a few more sites completing ground works before the 2022 breeding season begins. Through this project we have been able to complete over 600 ha of additional rush management and more than 100 new wet features on 20 farms and one wetland site in the Forest of Bowland. We will continue to develop strong relationships with the farmers who have participated in the project, enabling them to protect curlew breeding habitat long into the future. Philip’s project delivery on the ground has been supported by Natural England, the Forest of Bowland AONB, Wyre Rivers Trust, Ribble Rivers Trust and the farmers and landowners themselves. 

In addition, Philip and I have run or been involved in 5 events for farmers and landowners which will help them build skills and capability to deliver future work for curlew recovery in Bowland. 

Hilary McGuire
Conservation Advisor – Forest of Bowland AONB