New Forest Curlews in crisis!

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By Russell Wynn, 16 March 2017

In 2016, WNF worked in partnership with a number of local organisations to co-ordinate a survey of breeding Curlews and other ground-nesting waders in the New Forest. The full survey report can be downloaded hereĀ NF_Curlew_report(2016), and the Executive Summary is copied below. The headline news is that we may only have about 40 pairs of breeding Curlews left in the New Forest, and that dramatic population declines in this area (and nationally) may see the species becoming extinct in southern England within a decade or two.


Curlew photographed at Crockford by Marcus. The sight and sound of a displaying Curlew is one of the springtime highlights in the New Forest, but for how much longer?

Seeing and hearing a displaying Curlew over a New Forest heath is one of the highlights of the spring, but for how much longer?


We now seek volunteer observers to support a continuation of this survey work in the period March-July 2017, including territory mapping, nest monitoring and observation of pressures. We also urge anyone seeing a Curlew in potential NF breeding habitat in this period to contact us with details of the sighting (date, location/grid ref, behaviour) so we can follow up and confirm if the birds are nesting. We can then work with Forestry Commission and NF National Park Authority colleagues to try and monitor and protect the nest. Our email contact is


Executive Summary

A volunteer-based survey of breeding Curlews in the New Forest was undertaken in 2016, in response to concerns about a perceived population decline and decreased productivity due to pressures such as nest predation and recreational disturbance. Territory mapping in 15 broad areas of suitable wet heathland, bog and mire habitat, covering 86 km2, produced just 40 pairs. This overall total, and the results of repeat mapping of 31 one-kilometre squares covered during previous surveys in 1994 and 2004, appears to confirm a dramatic population reduction of up to two-thirds in the last decade.

A total of 19 Curlew nests were located from late April onwards, equating to roughly half of the monitored territories. Limited information was obtained on productivity in 2016, with only about nine successful hatchings reported and just five observations of chicks. A wide range of potential pressures was recorded, although only avian predators and recreational users were seen to actively disturb Curlews during the incubation phase (when most recording of pressures was undertaken). Engagement with land managers has highlighted potential mitigation measures for recreational disturbance, such as targeted signage at selected nest sites.

Other ground-nesting waders were only surveyed in detail in six areas, with totals of Lapwing and Snipe being slightly lower than but broadly comparable to the 2014 HLS survey. Breeding Redshanks now appear to be restricted to the southeast margins of the New Forest, with a total of just four pairs reported from two areas in 2016.

No Curlews were ringed in 2016 despite several attempts early in the season, but a colour-ringed bird reported in the north of the New Forest, that may have beenĀ ringed in Southampton Water in late October 2011, possibly indicates that at least some breeding birds are wintering locally.

A recent workshop on Curlews in southern England concluded that there are probably <200 pairs left in this broad area, highlighting the regional importance of the remaining New Forest population, both in terms of numbers and maintenance of UK range. However, if the recent decline continues at the same rate, the species could become locally extinct in the New Forest within the next few years. Further survey work in 2017 and beyond will better constrain the New Forest population level, while planned use of nest temperature loggers, colour ringing and GPS tagging will provide vital information on pressures, productivity and movement ecology.