The GNS “Curlew Meadows” project is a development of the long-standing concern to conserve the
fauna and flora of the Severn and Avon floodplain hay meadows, which extend from Gloucestershire
Around 2000, Natural England and the Environment Agency set up the ‘Severn and Avon Wetland
Management Partnership’ which identified some floodplain meadows suitable for restoration and
helped farmers to recreate wetlands on their land.
In 2002 the British Trust for Ornithology organised the second survey of “Breeding Waders of Wet
Meadows” (a year late because of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001); the first survey had been held
in 1981, and the third is this year, 2021. The 2002 survey documented the continuing decline of
breeding waders (traditionally Lapwing, Snipe, Curlew and Redshank) in the Vales. After 2002, GNS
members and other local ornithologists attempted to keep a record of breeding waders each year,
with the results being published in the Gloucestershire Bird Report. The story is a gloomy one: the
last drumming Snipe in Gloucestershire was recorded in 2003, Lapwing nests have continued to
decline both on arable fields and on pastureland, while breeding Redshank are now confined to a
very few sites. Curlew which generally nest in slightly higher, drier hay meadows have fared slightly
Particular attention has been paid in the last few years to these Curlews, and also to the botany of
the hay meadows in which they nest. From 2015 onwards, more intensive surveys of nesting Curlews
have been made in the Severn and Avon Vales, and indeed in other areas of lowland England where
small groups of nesting Curlews still survive: the Wye Valley in Herefordshire, along the Upper
Thames, Somerset Levels, North Wiltshire and Salisbury Plain, New Forest, Brecklands. It is
estimated that there are no more than 300 pairs of Curlews remaining south of Birmingham (in
addition of course to the much large numbers nesting in upland Britain). A 2015 article in the journal
‘British Birds’ suggested that the decline of Curlews, caused largely by the poor production of chicks,
made them the most important bird conservation issue in the UK. Mary Colwell’s book “Curlew
Moon” gives the background to this decline. A workshop was held at Slimbridge on World Wetlands
Day (2 February 2017) and this led to the creation of the ‘Curlew Forum’ which promotes
conservation of lowland Curlews across southern Britain and has a website at www.curlewcall.org.
GNS and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
GNS decided to support a project to conserve Curlews in its area, the first time that the Society has
used its financial resources in a major targeted plan. The first Curlew surveys aimed to monitor
Curlew nests from a distance, without disturbing them or opening the way for nest predators like
foxes, badgers or crows. But the Curlew Meadows project aims to be more interventionist and to
take positive measures to improve chick production, such as erecting electric fences round nests,
taking eggs and raising them in incubators so that the chicks might be released, erecting signs calling
on dog-walkers to keep their animals under control. At the same time, more intensive studies of the
botany of the hay meadows were undertaken.
In the last couple of years (despite the intervention of COVIDcovid), these plans have progressed.
The studies of Curlews have developed in collaboration with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
(which in 2019 released 50 young Curlews from eggs taken at airfields where the eggs would
otherwise have been destroyed to prevent bird strikes); intensive searches for nesting Curlews in the
Vales are proceeding in 2021.
GNS and Floodplain Meadows Partnership
The botanical surveys have made spectacular progress, in coordination with the Floodplain
Meadows Partnership, and the extent and quality of the hay meadows along the Severn have now
been recognised, with the prospect of new Sites of Scientific Interest being created to conserve
It is clear that these meadows, their fauna and flora (not forgetting the invertebrate life, as yet little
studied, though the Gloucestershire Invertebrate Group is becoming involved) depend on the
maintenance of traditional floodplain farming practices (wet in winter, late hay cut in summer,
aftermath grazing), so all. All these conservation efforts rely heavily on the support and interest of
the farming community in the Vales, which is gratefully acknowledged. Further survey is required,
plus greater interaction with the local communities and land managers. This will inform the practical
measures to conserve the flora and fauna including advice on when and how to manage the
meadows to help the wildlife.
Naturalists, land managers, individuals and organisations are welcome to become involved –
whether as surveyors, promoters, funders or land managers. Contact Juliet Bailey or Mike Smart of
the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society – Juliet on [email protected] and Mike Smart.