By Russell Wynn, 28 March 2016
The evocative call of a Curlew on a summer’s evening is one of the characteristic sounds of the New Forest heaths and mires. However, this could become a thing of the past if recent declines shown by the species continue. The UK population has declined by as much as 50% over the last two decades, with southern England one of the worst affected areas due to land-use changes and increases in generalist predators. The UK holds almost one-third of the European breeding population, which is also declining, and the species is therefore now listed as globally near-threatened and has become one of the UK’s highest conservation priorities.
In the New Forest, Curlews have been intermittently surveyed over recent decades, with most population estimates since the mid-1990s indicating at least 100-130 pairs (which is actually an increase from the 1960s). A look at the latest UK Bird Atlas maps shows the New Forest as the last stronghold in southeast England. However, there are concerns that the New Forest population may be declining and that productivity is decreasing due to recreational disturbance and/or predators such as foxes and crows. Consequently, WNF are co-ordinating Curlew survey work commencing this year, to better understand the New Forest population and the drivers behind any loss of productivity.
The survey will focus on 13 core areas across the New Forest that are known hotspots for breeding Curlews. Experienced field surveyors will make at least monthly visits to their adopted core areas from March to July, to count the number of pairs present and to try and pin down nest sites for subsequent productivity monitoring. The surveyors will also endeavour to make several timed one-hour counts quantifying recreational activity and predator presence in the vicinity of monitored nests. In parallel, experienced ringers will be looking for opportunities to colour ring pre-breeding adults and potentially also pulli at the nest, to assess site fidelity, displacement due to disturbance, and post-breeding/wintering areas. Full details of the survey methodology and the core areas are in the PDF below:
So how can you help? Well, we request that anyone seeing or hearing a Curlew on the New Forest this year lets us know promptly, so we can document the record and alert the local surveyor. We are a relatively small team so achieving full coverage will be challenging, and therefore any additional records will be welcome. We are also recording Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank, with the latter being on the verge of extinction as a breeding species in the New Forest interior. If you want to devote a bit more time and would like to help monitor a specific area then let us know – the more people we have searching for nest sites and subsequently monitoring them the better!
We are planning for this to be at least a three-year survey, and are liaising with key staff in Forestry Commission, Natural England and New Forest National Park Authority to ensure we have the requisite permissions and that our results can be used to support proactive management action on the ground. Mitigating action such as access restrictions and predator control can be controversial, so it is vital we generate a robust evidence base if any decline in our breeding waders is to be halted and reversed. Our surveyors have already started recording Curlews returning to breeding areas in recent days, with birds being particularly vocal and mobile as they establish territories. So please keep a note of any sightings, and let us know if you would like to help further.
An RSPB press release on the recent decline of the Curlew can be viewed here: