The Eurasian curlew, with its long, downwards-curving bill and distinctive call, is an iconic British bird. The UK is an important stronghold, holding around a quarter of the world’s breeding population. For many, the call of the curlew is a nostalgic and evocative feature of the British countryside. 

Sadly, breeding curlew numbers are in alarming decline around the UK. Curlews are ground-nesting birds that prefer open grassland, moor and meadow, away from hedgerows and forests which might harbour predators. Changes in land use, such as forestry, drainage of fields for crops and encroaching development, are also affecting the amount of viable habitat available to them. Even in suitable areas, eggs and chicks are susceptible to high levels of predation, whilst livestock densities increase the incidence of egg-trampling. In lowlands, multiple cuts of grass for silage are destroying nests and young birds. All these factors mean that curlews are simply not producing enough successful young, especially in lowland areas where they are disappearing rapidly. In Wiltshire, for example, it’s estimated that their numbers have dropped by a devastating 80% over the last 50 years, leaving only a dozen or so breeding pairs on Salisbury Plain and around Braydon Forest.

Photo of curlew chicksPhoto credit: Tony Pope

The prospects are not looking good for our largest and most tuneful wader. On the current trend, even the most optimistic estimates give the UK population less than 50 years, and some predictions are much worse. However, their disappearance is not inevitable. The curlew is now regarded as the UK’s highest priority species for bird conservation, and things are beginning to change. There are real solutions, which you can be a part of.

Photo of a curlewPhoto credit: Tony Pope

What can I do to help curlews?

  • Support local curlew projects such as the Wiltshire-based Curlew Call project – they might need funding, help with conservation work, or even access to land if you are a local farmer or landowner.
  • If you do have curlews on your land - particularly if you plan to cut silage or graze it – please ask for advice from a local curlew conservation group or the Curlew Recovery Partnership.
  • Keep dogs on the lead in curlew nesting areas during the spring and summer. Dogs (and humans) can disturb or destroy nests and harm curlew chicks. If you live near a breeding site, why not put up one of our downloadable signs to encourage others to keep their dogs on the lead too.
  • It’s crucial that we play an active role in looking after our environment, both locally and globally. Many of the issues which now face wildlife like the curlew are related to pollution, climate change and intensive land use. All these problems can be solved if we make a collective effort. We’ve put together a list of tips for looking after your environment which you might find helpful.
  • And finally, all of our wildlife benefits when more of us respect and care about it. World Curlew Day on April 21st is the perfect opportunity to spread the word amongst your friends and family!

World Curlew Day logo

Curlew Action logoBlog written by Alex Morgan-Grenville, Curlew Action

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