Curlew conservation at RSPB Insh Marshes

Flanked by the Monadhliath and Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands, RSPB Insh Marshes encompasses a section of the river Spey floodplain.  It is an internationally important wetland, supporting many rare and protected species, including an important assemblage of breeding birds.

The site holds a very high density of breeding curlew and many other wader species. The sloping flanks and glacial mounds surrounding the floodplain arguably make it one of the best sites in the whole of mainland Scotland to admire them. Crucially for conservation purposes, the reserve is also though to stay important for waders in the long term, as populations are predicted to shift northwards in response to changes in climatic conditions.

Each year, the reserve management team ensures that the marshes are in prime condition for curlew returning to breed. This project will support improvements to nesting and foraging habitat for curlew as well as delivering increased monitoring efforts to identify the factors limiting reproduction, inform management and measure the impact of our activities. We also aim to engage local communities to establish Insh Marshes as an exemplanary site for curlew conservation. It is the perfect place to build a foundation for a thriving population in the wider countryside of Scotland.

Curlew breeding on the marsh

Photo by Thijs Claes
Curlew breeding on the marsh Photo by Thijs Claes

Why this project matters.
A look at the stats.

RSPB Insh Marshes is one of the largest functioning floodplains in the UK. One of the few areas where low intensity management merely enhances the natural dynamics supporting a high density of waders.

decline in curlew population in Scotland since the mid-1990s
the area across which land management for curlew will be delivered
breeding pairs of curlew that the project will directly support at RSPB Insh Marshes

Image gallery

Project successes

October 2022

The ambitious landscape scale vision and on the ground conservation work delivered by Curlew LIFE and the Cairngorms Connect partnership inspired the lecturers from the University College of London. They believed the projects to be great case studies to enthuse and inform the next generation of ecologists and conservationists. So, on a very sunny Autmn day, RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes hosted their students of the MSC course in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation. 

UCL students crossing one of the braided channels of the river Tromie

August 2022

We managed to show of some of our fledged chicks on the final Curious Curlew Morning of this breeding season. In total, more than 100 people attended these events, learning more about the behaviours, opportunities and challenges for curlew in this landscape.




May 2022

Training completed for the first Curlew LIFE volunteer monitoring team. Four local volunteers and a residential intern will help with nest searches and avian predator surveys.

April 2022

The Curious Curlew Mornings has started. Throughout the breeding season of 2022, we will organise eight mornings for the local community and reserve visitors to enjoy and learn more about the spectacle of breeding curlew on the floodplain.

The first curious curlew event. Hiding inside because of persistent rain.

August 2021

Completed the first year of monitoring. Despite several spring floods, almost half of our pairs have hatched some of their eggs. Our future work will allow us to boost these numbers and inform us how many of the chicks are fledging.

July 2021

A visit from MSP Mark Ruskell including discussions about community engagement in landscape scale nature restoration project.

May 2021

Start of the mammal predator trail camera program. Data collected from 13 trail cameras will inform us on mammal predator activity levels on the reserve throughout the year.

Volunteers setting up one of the trail cameras.

April 2021

Start of the habitat monitoring on March 29th. 116 fields will be assessed for curlew suitability

March 2021

Topping and shrub management completed

February 2021

First curlew sighting of the year on Insh Marshes of February 9th by Reserve Warden Pete Moore

January 2021

Thijs Claes hired as the Curlew LIFE Project Officer for Insh Marshes

Video Gallery

Our partners

The Curlews in Crisis project is managed by the RSPB with generous support from the EU LIFE programme and the following project partners; Cairngorms Connect, Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership Scheme, Natural Resources Wales and NIEA-DAERA.

Cairngorms Connect is part of the Endangered Landscapes Programme, which is managed by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative in partnership with Arcadia - a charitable fund of Lisbet Rousing and Peter Baldwin.

Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership Scheme is led by North Pennines AONB Partnership and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Additional funding has also been received from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.