Thriving curlews on moorlands

The much-loved Curlew is thriving on Scottish moorlands thanks to careful conservation work and moorland management.

Named as this year’s ‘Bird of Focus’ for the RSPB Scotland’s Big Nature Festival, which took place this weekend, the Curlew is in serious decline across much of Scotland, particularly in the lowlands, where numbers more than halved between 1995 and 2010 (*British Trust for Ornithology).

However, managed moorland can provide the curlew with a bastion against habitat loss and predation. The Scottish Moorland Group, who will have a stand at the festival, and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have praised the work by Scottish estates to conserve this iconic British bird and to ensure that good breeding conditions are maintained.

Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group, said: “Curlew numbers have been declining across most of the UK due to loss of their wetland habitat, and as a ground nesting bird the curlew is highly vulnerable to predators such as foxes and crows.

“But on grouse moors, wetland is maintained and predator numbers are controlled. We believe grouse moors play a vital role in enabling the UK to fulfil its obligation to look after around a quarter of the world’s breeding curlew population – now classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List.

Case studies such as that from Midlocharwoods, near Dumfries, demonstrate that it’s not necessary to have a large holding to make a real difference to wader conservation. A land owner with just three hectares of wet land noticed that early nesting pairs of Curlew were declining each year and feared that they were being harried by carrion crows.

“With simple and humane Larsen trapping the owner was able to remove 27 crows from the area and the result was two new pairs of curlew nesting on his land. This small scale example demonstrates how low cost schemes can enable waders to breed successfully.

Dr Adam Smith, Director Scotland of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, added: “Results of the nine year Upland Predation Research project carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust at Otterburn in Northumberland identified, for the first time, that the control of common predators such as crows and foxes significantly improves, by more than three times, the breeding success of curlew, lapwing and golden plover – all species of conservation concern.

“Securing the future of such vulnerable species is within our grasp if more landowners implemented necessary wildlife management, such as that carried out on Scottish grouse moors.”