FARMERS and volunteers are working together in the Yorkshire Dales to help ensure the next generation will be able to enjoy the extraordinary cry of wading bird, the curlew.

In response to the severe decline of the birds, which can live up to 30 years old, the Clapham Curlew Cluster was set up by a group of 12 farms and 18 volunteers in March last year.

In partnership with the RSPB the first step was to find out how many curlews and other waders there were on the farms, and through monitoring of the farms by volunteers, a strong community relationship has been formed.

Sarah Smith, of Clapham Curlew Action, said: "From June 2023 this project included educational work on Curlew conservation with Settle and Kirkby Malham Primary Schools together with Curlew Action and Hill Top Farm, Malham.

"In October this year the Clapham Curlew Cluster received a grant from Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust to support the work in data collection, nest protection, education and a touring exhibition, and in 2024 another three farms will join the project."

Curlew are currently on the red endangered list with numbers drastically falling - but North England is a last stronghold for curlew not only in the UK but Europe.

Sarah said: "There are now only 500 pairs left south of the Pennines and just over 100 pairs left in Northern Ireland. Curlew are part of our cultural landscape, their iconic call heralds the start of spring. We are so lucky to have them here but we need to help protect the curlew, who return every year to nest with us, for future generations.

"Without the farmers and landowners none of the work currently being done to halt this drastic decline would be possible. It is important to understand because they can live up to 30 years there is often a misconception that we will always have them, but with current productivity so low we could wake up in our community and find the same drastic loss that has occurred in the South of England.

"Without chicks fledging we will not have a future population particularly in the lowlands where farming practices and predators are the major problem. The farmers and volunteers in the Clapham Cluster and in other groups which have set up in Nidderdale and Malhamdale, are all working to try to stop this drastic decline.

"As an umbrella species curlew is a good indicator of the health of the environment of the farms. It is also important for the public to realise their part in keeping dogs on lead during the wader season – nest disturbance by dogs adds to their inability to raise chicks."

Earlier this year, an educational day for Settle and Kirkby Malham Primary Schools was arranged by the Clapham Curlew Cluster and the charity Curlew Action with Hill Top Farm, Malham.

Textile artist Sue Harrison joined the children at Hill Top Farm where the children walked through the rich uplands to understand how they farm in a curlew friendly way. A day of creativity at each school followed the visit – the children were taught to use wool to felt and create fields – using their notes and ideas from their farm visit. The children also created posters, paintings and poems.

Sarah said: "This wonderful work is now being collated and made into an accessible format for a travelling exhibition – the first of which will be at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes from February to April, 2024, as part of their exhibition “The Cry of the Curlew”.

"This will be followed by Kirkby Malham Church, Clapham Church and The Museum of North Craven Life at the Folly in Settle. As part of the exhibition a short video is being produced with Long Bank Farm and Bleak Bank Farm to ensure the farmers have their voices heard. Both farms were instrumental in the setting up of the Clapham Curlew Cluster."

To help monitor the curlew, field cameras will 'better understand the predation of nests. A payment will also be available to farmers in the cluster of £500 to leave an acre un-mown around nest sites.

"This is particularly important as often silage needs to be cut at the same time as curlew are nesting. This will be monitored by the volunteers and the RSPB but will be farmer led - a project with farmers and volunteers working together for the next generation", said Sarah.

Mike Appleton, grants officer, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, said: “We’re delighted that we have been able to fund what will is an important project for one of our most well-loved but highly vulnerable red-listed species. Being able to support organisations like the Clapham Curlew Cluster to make a real difference in their community, and their local landscape, is a key part of our new grants programme. We wish everyone the best of luck for this exciting project.”