Gloucestershire Curlews

This is a short video with Mike Smart about Curlew monitoring.

I work in local conservation in the Severn and Avon Vales, through the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society, and various other bodies. We have, with BTO, carried out a colour-ringing project on Curlews that winter in the Severn estuary. Thanks to the colour rings we can now recognise individuals, and have confirmed that they are incredibly faithful to both breeding and wintering sites, returning year after year to the same mudflat and high tide roost in winter, and to the same breeding field in summer. Our ringed wintering Curlews breed across a broad swath of land from the Severn estuary to Yorkshire, Suffolk, The Netherlands, Germany and as far as Sweden and eastern Finland.

Though Curlew is generally considered to be a breeding bird of high moorland, a reasonable population continues to breed in the lowlands of south west England; one of the main centres is the Somerset Levels, and there are almost as many in the Severn and Avon Vales upstream of Gloucester. Curlew is very much one of the iconic summer species of the Vales in summer and its lovely bubbling call is a feature of the area, much loved by local people. We are going to do a survey this year, to try to find out exactly how many pairs breed; my “off the top of the head” estimate is 50-100 pairs. The nests are terribly difficult to find as the birds nest in very large flat hayfields in the broad river valleys, where it is difficult to get on an eminence from which you can watch them. We think that one reason for the decline is early cutting of these hay meadows, though predation is clearly a problem too. We have a team of local observers, who are making regular visits to the main sites, and hope to produce a document at the end showing where the main sites are, in the hope that bodies like Natural England will help persuade farmers and land-owners to cut their grass a bit later, when any chicks have fledged.

Mike Smart

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