Curlew conservationists from around the UK gathered at our Antrim Plateau project area in April, to visit the site and learn about the interventions that have led to a marked increase in Curlew breeding productivity.

The RSPB Curlew LIFE team has seen some brilliant success in terms of numbers of Curlew fledglings, building on many years of work by the RSPB in the area. Attendees from conservation charities, partnerships and community-led organisations travelled from Scotland, England, Wales and the Isle of Man, as well as Northern Ireland.

“We recorded 55 young Curlews fledging here in 2023 – the highest number from any site we’re aware of in Northern Ireland,” said RSPB Conservation Officer Katie Gibb, who hosted the two-day event as Curlew LIFE project lead for the area.

“When we released our breeding figures last year, we had quite a few requests from people who wanted to come and visit the site and find out about the different interventions we do here, so we decided to hold this two-day event, bringing everyone together so that we could all share information and knowledge.”

A pub lounge with people seated at tables, looking towards the camera, smiling.The weekend was built around the topics the attendees were keen to hear about and discuss. Opening the event, RSPB Conservation Manager Neal Warnock gave an overview of the RSPB’s longstanding presence in the Antrim Plateau, working with local farmers and the wider communities to improve outcomes for breeding waders. Katie then outlined how the Curlew LIFE project has been building on those foundations since 2021, culminating in the successful breeding figures we’re seeing now.

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to talks, demonstrations and discussion sessions covering a diverse range of topics, plus a site visit.

A member of the Glenwherry predator control team gave an overview of their approach, the range of predators on site and the factors that have contributed to their increase.

Farmer David McBride led a discussion on the part he has played in Curlew LIFE and the role of farmers in Curlew conservation, with Gareth Bareham, the RSPB’s advisory manager for Northern Ireland, also on hand to share his expertise on agri-environment schemes.

Anne-Marie McDevitt, RSPB head of species for Northern Ireland, gave an update on headstarting, sharing the results of research and current thinking.

Katie demonstrated ‘candling’ eggs – examining them by torchlight to assess their health and estimate hatch dates.

Nest finding was a key topic of interest, and a short training film was screened featuring experienced Curlew nest finder, Steve Dodd, a senior research assistant with the RSPB, with a discussion afterwards.

Among the highlights was a talk and demonstration of the use of highly trained dogs to find Curlew nests, led by Dr Caroline Finlay of Conservation Detection Dogs Northern Ireland.
Although Storm Kathleen meant the planned bus tour of the site couldn’t go ahead on the Saturday, a slimmed-down version was possible on the Sunday afternoon, with several Curlew pairs putting in an appearance for the visitors.

“I really enjoyed the Glenwherry open weekend,” said Barny Sykes from Curlew Recovery South Lakes, in Cumbria. “Glenwherry is a leading example of how to conserve this precious species. It was great to meet the people and have lots of discussion within the group on the detail of Curlew conservation.

“I was pleased that the cloud of Storm Kathleen gave us a silver lining of more discussions. The team put on some fascinating discussions at short notice. I especially enjoyed the nest detection dog demonstration, the nest finding discussion and the predator control discussion. An excellent weekend.”

Based on the feedback from attendees, the event proved to be a very useful exchange of practical information and insights, which we can act on to drive up Curlew numbers in the different landscapes we’re all working in.

“I’d like to thank everyone who gave talks and led discussions, especially at short notice given the need to rejig the agenda due to the weather,” Katie said. “Most of all, a big thank you to everyone who braved the storm and made it such an interactive event. We’re all learning all the time about ways to help Curlews and the crucial thing is to keep sharing all that knowledge.”

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