WITH World Curlew Day coming up next month, Victoria Benn of Friends of The Dales, writes about what can be done to help save the iconic waders from disappearing forever from our countryside - and urges dog owners to give chicks a chance, and keep their pets on leads in the nesting season.

IN the last 25 years alone, from 1995 to 2020, the UK has lost nearly half of its breeding curlews – with Wales, Northern Ireland and southern lowland England now having almost no breeding pairs left at all.

Since the UK is home to about 25 per cent of the entire population of Eurasian curlew, any decline threatens curlew globally, which has put the large wading birds on the ‘red-list’ of animals facing extinction and makes them one of the most pressing bird conservation priorities in the UK.

“The reasons we have lost so many curlew are complex,” explains Ann Shadrake, executive director of Yorkshire Dales environmental campaigning charity, Friends of the Dales.

“Curlew and other big wading birds need large undisturbed spaces with the right mix of grassland, moorland and wetter areas. Changes such as development, more people visiting the countryside, a shift to early cuts for silage and an increase in some natural predators have all added pressure. Overall, these changes have meant far fewer chicks surviving each year."

She added: “If we are lucky enough to see or hear lots of curlew returning to the Dales in early spring, we might think all is well, but unfortunately it isn’t. Although incredibly, if a curlew does manage to survive its first year then it may live to be 20 or even 30 years old.”

Curlew tracking indicates that only about one in every four breeding pairs manage to raise their chicks to maturity each year, a mathematical equation which basically means that not enough young birds are surviving to take the place of their parents and grandparents.

“The picture is pretty grim,” continues Ann. “Just to stop the dire decline in the UK we need 10,000 more curlew chicks to survive each year. Without concerted efforts, even within our own lifetime, we could see curlew become extinct in the UK – so we must take action now.”

Luckily the Yorkshire Dales is a remaining stronghold for curlew and other ground nesting birds due to its mix of habitats including grasslands, moorlands and wetlands. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and other bodies can offer guidance and potentially funding to farmers and landowners with managing nest marking, cutting silage later and more carefully, and establishing the best habitats for growing chicks.

Ann says: “Individually we all have a part to play too by reducing disturbance in the breeding season of March to August. Studies show that curlew are disturbed just by people walking on nearby footpaths. If you have a dog with you the impact is even greater.

"Chasing is normal behaviour for a dog so keeping them on a short lead dramatically reduces the chance of frightening curlew off their nests. Dogs are of course natural predators and if given the chance will also gobble up eggs and chicks. Keeping your dog under tight control, preferably on a short lead, reduces these impacts. #PawsOnPaths is a good reminder.”

To help raise awareness of the critically endangered curlew, Friends of the Dales is hosting a one-day outdoor installation event on Sunday April 14 at Malham.

Up to 20 life-size curlew sculptures made from foraged and recycled wire by the charity's team of Creative Campaigners, who are aged between 20 and 30 years old, and under the expert guidance of Dales based artist Lesley Knevitt − will be placed in the field alongside the pathway that links Malham village to Janet’s Foss. It has been made possible with the by permission of farmers Neil Heseltine and Leigh Weston.

Ahead of World Curlew Day on April 21, the event aims to give members of the public the chance to discover more about the endangered bird and the practical things we can all do to help improve their survival rate. There will also be a short online quiz - with the chance of winning a year’s free membership to the charity - and downloadable instructions on how to make your own wire or origami curlew.

Event helpers will also be able to advise people about the ways in which they can volunteer to help curlew directly, since more landowners are now working with conservation charities like the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and Wildlife Trust who train volunteers to monitor and protect nests. There will also be information about charities such as Curlew Action and Wader Quest which focus on curlew and wading bird conservation.

For more information visit: www.friendsofthedales.org.uk