Norfolk project to save curlews from airfield hazards

 a curlew flying over titchwell marsh

The curlew's call has become a less common sound as the species has declined - Credit: citizenside.com

Threatened curlew are being given a helping hand by a recovery project getting under way in Norfolk, which sees their eggs rescued from airfields, where the birds like to nest.

The project, which builds on a successful pilot project last year, sees the eggs removed from near runways before being incubated and the curlew reared and released into habitats where they have the best opportunity to thrive.

The curlew is Europe’s largest wading bird and has suffered a severe decline in population over the past 40 years.

The eggs collected by Natural England staff and partners are now starting to hatch at Pensthorpe Natural Park and Slimbridge in Gloucestershire.

A new partnership has been launched to help save the curlew, one of England's most threatened birds

A new partnership is working to help save the curlew, one of England's most threatened birds - Credit: Tom Cadwallender

Later this summer, the fledged curlew will be tagged and released at Wild Ken Hill and Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, while the birds raised at Slimbridge will be released on Dartmoor.

This year more GPS tags and radio transmitters are being fitted to the birds to boost efforts to track their movements and conservation.

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has been focusing on the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species, the curlew.

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has been focusing on the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species, the curlew. - Credit: Pensthorpe Natural Park

As a ground-nesting species, curlew gravitate to airfields, which mimic the natural open grasslands they prefer, while security fencing at airfields can also help deter predators such as foxes.

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However, curlew nesting close to runways pose a danger to air safety and, until this project began, eggs laid on airfields would be destroyed under licence to prevent the risk of collisions between aircraft and birds.

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, said: “Working together is vital to help reverse the decline of the curlew. The trust is thrilled to play a significant part in aiding the recovery of such an important species, by rearing and releasing chicks saved from the airfields."

 

Curlew eggs being incubated after they were collected from airfields.

Curlew eggs being incubated after being collected from airfields. - Credit: Pensthorpe Conservation Trust

Air Commodore Sam Sansome, inspector of safety at the RAF, said: “The RAF is so proud to be supporting this fantastic project again this year.

"It really is an amazing thing being done by the team and it is brilliant that all the organisations involved have pulled together, again, to ensure the future of this iconic bird.”