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Curlew conservation priorities and the CRP work programme

Russ writes:

A key ongoing activity for the CRP is development of a work programme for future years, which we aim to publish online this autumn. In recent weeks we have focussed on gathering information and evidence to inform this process. In total we have engaged with and received feedback from over 1000 Curlew enthusiasts across the country since our launch in spring 2021, with key activities including:

  • Email correspondence with (and feedback from) the members of our growing CRP network, which currently comprises nearly 300 email addresses

  • An online seminar on World Curlew Day, featuring presentations from a series of expert guest speakers, followed by Q&A

  • A series of five Regional Online Workshops, featuring an introduction by the CRP Chair and Manager followed by open Q&A (often facilitated by CRP Steering Group members)

  • An online Curlew Practitioner Survey, which received over 400 responses, primarily from landowners, farmers, gamekeepers, and conservationists

We have collated and analysed all the feedback received, and drawn upon the collective experience of our Steering Group at a one-day workshop at WWT Slimbridge on 06 July (see image below); this has allowed us to identify a series of priority themes for action, which build upon the initial feedback from our network earlier in the year (summarised in this previous blog post):

The CRP leadership team at our first in-person workshop at WWT Slimbridge; clockwise from bottom left are Dr Andrew Hoodless (GWCT, co-opted member), Prof Russell Wynn (CRP Manager), Dame Teresa Dent (GWCT), Mary Colwell (CRP Chair), Dr Geoff Hilton (WWT), Tom Stratton (Duchy of Cornwall), Mike Shurmer (RSPB) and Amanda Perkins (Curlew Country); in addition Dr Samantha Franks (BTO) and Tom Orde-Powlett (Bolton Castle Estate) attended via video link and can be seen on the drop-down screen (appropriately, Sam was in the field watching head-started Curlews being released!).

Our new CRP work programme will primarily focus on mitigating the three main pressures that are negatively impacting Curlews in England, these are: 1) loss of breeding habitat, 2) agricultural operations, and 3) predation, with the latter two contributing to low productivity. Immediate actions include high-level engagement with Defra to support and influence development of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, and a rapid assessment of options to reduce nest/chick loss in silage and hay fields (primarily due to early cutting and preparatory operations). We are also looking to develop an exciting Curlew Recovery Pilot Programme this autumn that will identify a small number of priority sites across England where we can test and trial various techniques for Curlew recovery and quantify the wider biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits.

Other significant pressures on Curlews such as 1) commercial afforestation and tree-planting schemes, 2) housing and infrastructure developments, 3) recreational disturbance, and 4) climate change and extreme weather, will either be covered as standing agenda items at Steering Group meetings or covered through specific fora that will include the key statutory bodies, conservation organisations, and major land managers who are not already represented on our Steering Group, e.g. the National Trust, National Park Authorities, Forestry England and the Wildlife Trusts.

We will also be focussing on survey, monitoring, and training activities, and will explore options for delivering field-based training workshops next spring covering topics such as Curlew surveying, nest fencing, and monitoring productivity. We are also looking to provide strategic leadership and co-ordination on Curlew head-starting, working closely with Defra/Natural England and key partners engaged in active head-starting projects such as WWT and Curlew Country. We will identify priorities for future Curlew research, including potential MSc and PhD topics, and will continue to engage with our network and the wider public, for example, this autumn we are planning to issue a public call (and supporting info) relating to the reading and reporting of Curlew colour rings.

Although the primary function of the CRP is to act as a co-ordinating and enabling body for Curlew conservation in England, some of the activities listed above will include an element of field-based delivery. We will therefore be establishing a small team to explore options for fund-raising, to ensure we can continue to support a full-time Manager beyond spring 2022 and to deliver these additional activities; this team will be focussed on novel funding streams to avoid competing with other organisations already engaged in Curlew conservation.

In terms of structure, our initial thinking is that the CRP work programme will be divided into a series of sub-groups based around the themes highlighted in bold above, complemented by targeted task-and-finish groups. The sub-groups will report to our Steering Group and will be co-ordinated by the CRP Manager. We will also be inviting a small number of experts from across our network to provide additional expertise and regional coverage to some of these groups.

Finally, we are grateful to all those who have provided feedback in recent months and hope the portfolio of work outlined above addresses most of the identified issues. Curlew recovery, whether it be at local, regional, national, or international scale, is an immense task that is likely to require decades not years to achieve. But we have been greatly encouraged by the huge upswell in interest and support across the country and are confident that our collective actions will provide benefits for a wide range of threatened species and habitats, including of course Curlews!

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