Curlews in crisis is a 4-year LIFE Nature project managed by the RSPB. Working closely with project partners, the aim is to stabilise curlew breeding populations within five priority landscapes across the four countries of the UK by improving breeding habitat conditions.

Efforts will be greatest in Wales and Northern Ireland where the declines are most severe (69% and 82% decline since the mid-1990s). In Scotland and Northern England, we are developing ‘centres of excellence for curlew conservation’.


The project has five objectives

  • Enhance conditions for breeding curlew using best-practice conservation methods in the selected landscapes, halting curlew declines within these landscapes.
  • Evaluate responses to this work through monitoring of habitat condition, predator abundance, curlew abundance and breeding success.
  • Develop post-project plans to maintain viable populations in the selected landscapes and halt the decline of curlew elsewhere across the UK.
  • Increase understanding of the importance and plight of curlew breeding in the UK, and of ways to help them, among local communities and visitors in the priority landscapes and more widely.
  • Create and strengthen networks to share best-practice approaches to curlew conservation across the UK and EU; and encourage and enable government bodies in the four countries of the UK to take large-scale, long-term conservation action for this species.


Objective 1 will be achieved through a combination of advice provision and direct practical action to enhance breeding conditions for curlew within project sites. The quality of breeding habitat will be improved by creating varied sward structures and more wet features. The density of vegetation is critical, with tussocks of rush or heather required for cover and nesting, but open areas between allowing birds to move and feed.  Targeted vegetation management, through grazing and mechanical cutting will create this varied sward structure.  More scrapes, pools and damp areas will also be created, producing insect rich hotspots in the landscape and allowing chicks more opportunities to find invertebrate prey.  Alongside these habitat improvements, a combination of non-lethal and lethal predator control will be implemented as a short-term measure. Non-lethal methods include predator-exclusion fencing, both temporary and permanent and habitat management that reduces predator pressure within key breeding areas. Lethal control is undertaken as a last resort measure when predation is demonstrated to be limiting populations at that site, will be closely monitored, regularly reviewed and follows legal, best-practice, high welfare and evidence-based methods.

Objective 2 will be achieved using innovative monitoring techniques to provide better information on curlew nesting success and by developing volunteer teams to help support monitoring long-term.

Objective 3 will be achieved by working with key project stakeholders to develop a UK Species Action Plan for curlew and ensuring that each of the project landscapes have agreed plans in place for the long-term conservation of curlew beyond this project

Objective 4 will be achieved through a range of activities; engaging with landowners and local communities through walks, talks and training events to raise awareness of curlew conservation issues; using digital platforms such as social media and website to provide project updates and direct people to further information; undertake a social science survey and develop volunteer teams and ‘Curlew Champions’ to support project activities.

Objective 5 will be achieved by working closely with key project stakeholders and creating networks for information and knowledge sharing and maintaining participation within those that already exist. Through the production of case studies and using knowledge gained through the project to inform curlew conservation outcomes in policy development.

Project timeline – key dates

March 2021

First year of monitoring starts.

October 2020

Start of the LIFE Project.

Expected Results

  • c4,700 ha of habitat enhanced for curlew
  • Monitoring undertaken across 5,000ha
  • Volunteer teams recruited and trained to support monitoring and advice provision
  • Monitoring outcomes shared with key partners
  • Specific After-LIFE Plans completed for each of the five priority landscapes
  • Species Action Plan developed for the whole of the UK, in collaboration with Defra and others
  • At least 500,000 people reached at national level (e.g. through digital media) and 5,000 people engaged directly through engagement activities
  • Increased understanding of the problems facing curlews, and the ways to tackle these issues within project sites
  • Local ‘Curlew Champions’ recruited to support local engagement and national advocacy
  • Local networks of farmers and other land managers in each priority landscape engaged with the project
  • Annual meetings bring together key members of each site and information shared
  • Active participation in national curlew forums maintained
  • Knowledge exchanged across the UK and EU through networking, providing demonstrable benefits both to this project and other curlew conservation initiatives
  • Production of evidence-based case studies of successful interventions created and used to underpin advocacy for curlew at local and national levels
  • Curlew conservation outcomes and commitments obtained from policy makers
  • Forest sensitivity maps produced