The importance of the Northern Upland Chain for conserving curlew in the UK.

Northumberland National Park – Curlew

A global conservation priority

The much-loved curlew is a flagship species for our uplands. Its evocative ‘curlee-curlee’ call heralds the arrival of spring and reminds people of wild places. However, the curlew is one of the most pressing bird conservation priorities in the UK. The breeding population has nearly halved since the mid-1990s. In some places, there is a real possibility that they could disappear altogether in the next twenty years. The UK also has a global responsibility to take action as it is the third most important country in the world for breeding curlew. We are home to up to a quarter of the breeding population but numbers are dropping here faster than anywhere else in the world.

The problem

The main cause of decline in curlews is poor breeding success. If they are to survive, curlews must produce at least one chick every couple of years. The decline in curlews across the UK is linked to policy-driven changes in land use, reducing good quality habitat and increasing predation risk.

The critical role of the NUC in securing a future for the curlew

Investment is needed in areas where the curlew populations are still hanging on. The NUCLNP area is their stronghold – it has the highest density in mainland UK, so is a priority area for stabilising the breeding population. The NUCLNP area extends over around744200 ha and comprises a mosaic of habitats for curlews, including around 321,000 ha of ‘in-bye‘ grassland, much of which is potentially suitable for waders.

The NUCLNP response

We have set up a curlew working group with the aim of improving conservation prospects for the species across the NUC, working with farmers and land-managers in the area. The priorities for the NUC are understanding how curlews use the landscape, empowering curlew-friendly farming, building public support and demonstrating the power of partnerships. A work programme has been developed focussing on actions that will have the most impact for curlews. This includes:

  • Data – ensuring we have the most up to date, relevant data to inform our conservation action and measure the success of interventions;
  • Land management advice – ensuring we can use the most up-to-date information to work with land managers across the whole NUCLNP to improve conditions for curlews on their land.
  • A curlew ‘hotspots’ project – focussing in on the prime areas for curlews within the NUCLNP to ensure the best areas remain the best.
  • Communications – highlighting the plight of the curlew and the ways the NUCLNP is trying to help.