Russ and Mary write:
Sunday 03 April
On a bright and breezy morning, 25 Curlew enthusiasts gathered at Abbeystead Estate in the Forest of Bowland AONB for the first CRP Training Workshop. Our local host, Rob Foster, is Abbeystead’s Moorland Technician, and he has a wealth of experience monitoring breeding waders on the estate, and detailed data to back it up. A brief round of introductions highlighted the variety of participant’s backgrounds, including consultant ornithologists, nearby estate owners, gamekeepers, conservation NGO project officers, National Park Authority staff, and representatives of local Curlew conservation groups.
Annotated photo showing the wide variety of groups represented at the CRP training workshop at Abbeystead Estate
We then visited two farmland sites on the estate where we were able to see and hear displaying Curlews as well as nesting Lapwings, a couple of flushed Snipe, and mobile flocks of Oystercatchers. Attendees were provided with a description of the Curlew year, followed by an introduction to methods for survey and monitoring of breeding Curlews. There was also time to discuss pertinent issues such as predator control and farming practices, and aspects of habitat and recreational management, as well as the consumption of a hearty packed lunch! The group got to see the remains of an adult Lapwing that was interpreted to be the result of a Peregrine kill, and an abandoned Lapwing nest with predated eggs nearby that may have been abandoned due to the death of this bird. As well as the waders, we saw hunting Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, and a fine male Hen Harrier ghosting over the moor to conclude the day.
Photo by Richard Bailey showing Russ and the workshop attendees discussing habitat management for Curlew and other breeding waders
Email feedback from Environmental NGO rep
“Thanks for organising a great day out on Sunday. It was interesting to see the reality of Curlew conservation even in a well-resourced project like that one.”
Email feedback from Gamekeeper and Moorland Group Co-ordinator
“A great day I thought, back to cold, wind, rain, and fog today!”
Email feedback from Consultant Ornithologist
“I just wanted to drop you both a quick line to say how much I enjoyed the training workshop on Sunday and how glad I am that I came along. I found the content to be fantastic and just really enjoyed it. I was also absolutely thrilled to meet you both in person. Thanks also for a great lunch.”
Monday 04 April
After an overnight stay at Claughton Hall and a tour of the breeding wader habitats on the surrounding estate, kindly hosted by workshop attendees Francis and Jenny Fitzherbert-Brockholes, we headed north to Alston; Russ was delighted to spot a Great White Egret feeding with Grey Herons shortly after our departure! Our aim was to liaise with our colleague, Roger Morgan-Grenville, who was in the process of walking from the New Forest coast to Cape Wrath to raise money for Curlew conservation (via Curlew Action). A pleasant but rather damp stroll along an old railway line produced a couple of pairs of Curlews, and after we said our goodbyes to Roger we headed north to our overnight accommodation near Hadrian’s Wall.
Photo showing Mary (left) and Roger (centre) in good spirits despite the damp weather!
Meanwhile, down south, Mike Shurmer was facilitating the second CRP Training Workshop at RSPB Otmoor. Our local host was David Wilding, the Otmoor Site Manager, who brought a wealth of practical experience from managing the site for breeding waders since 2004. Similar to the workshop of the day before, participants came from a variety of backgrounds, including NGO officers, farmers, staff from statutory agencies, academia and representatives from lowland Curlew projects. After a damp start, the weather moderated and the group of about 20 attendees were able to observe several pairs of territorial Curlews and other breeding waders, as well as a couple of Cranes and an overflying White Stork! As with the northern workshop, attendees learnt about Curlew survey and monitoring methods but were also able to discuss key interventions such as nest fencing and lethal predator control, along with habitat management as we were able to see Curlew in a range of lowland grassland habitats, from the ancient hay meadows on the Otmoor SSSI to the more agriculturally improved grasslands. It’s clear from subsequent correspondence that this was also a valuable networking event for the attendees, with lots of useful shared experience.
Photo by Mike Pollard showing attendees at the CRP training workshop at RSPB Otmoor
Email feedback from Environmental NGO rep
“Just a quick note to thank you for yesterday’s training session. I really enjoyed it and actually learnt a lot. On the way home in the car, we were discussing the value of the day: it certainly was good to get together and to do all that networking, and to feel that there are kindred souls out there. Then we started to tot up all the things we had learnt, and surprised ourselves by how many things there were, even people like me who talk too much. In addition, it was brilliant to get the Otmoor story from the horse’s mouth – David, wonderful to see someone so completely in control of his brief, and obviously enjoying it too.”
Tuesday 05 April
In the morning we met with Christina Taylor and Liz Charman of RSPB near Hadrian’s Wall to discuss their EU-funded LIFE project ‘Curlews in Crisis’. They are working closely with local farmers and the Northumberland National Park to survey and monitor the Curlew population and are providing information and support on habitat management; they are also working to minimise adverse impacts of forestry plantations on breeding Curlews and other species dependent upon open landscapes. There are already several tree-planting schemes under way in the area, and there are concerns that a lack of strategic oversight will lead to piecemeal fragmentation of the landscape to the detriment of breeding waders.
Photo showing a Curlew featuring prominently on signage for the Northumberland National Park
In the afternoon we transferred to Lauder in the Lammermuir Hills to meet with Prof Ian Newton, who was joining us for a talk that evening to a group of estate owners/agents and gamekeepers from northern England and southern Scotland. This well-attended event was convened by Southern Uplands Moorland Group and hosted by the Duke of Northumberland; it provided a great opportunity for us to promote the work of the CRP and to hear about some of the opportunities and challenges around upland management that are relevant to Curlew conservation. It also enabled us to hear more about work being undertaken by Working for Waders this spring in Scotland, and to subsequently identify areas for future collaboration.
Photo by GWCT Scotland showing the start of the CRP seminar at Carfraemill Hotel, with the Duke of Northumberland providing the opening words
Email feedback from Moorland Group Chairman
“I greatly enjoyed the evening at Carfraemill and was sorry to miss what I gather was a lively discussion after the break! I really do applaud your efforts on behalf of this lovely bird, and I hope you were encouraged by the evident support you received from the gamekeepers and moor owners who were there.”
Email feedback from major landowner
“It was good to meet you - and thank you very much for speaking so eloquently at the Carfraemill event. I’m so glad that has resulted in further communication with the Scottish group and initiated a project in the Cheviots.”
Email feedback from Moorland Group rep
“Great to meet yourself and Mary on Tuesday evening at the Cafraemill Hotel, at what was a very informative and insightful presentation.”
Wednesday 06 April
In the morning, the Duke kindly took us on a tour of his moorland estate in the Lammermuir Hills, where despite the cool and blustery weather, we enjoyed close views of several pairs of Curlew, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, and Greylag Goose, as well as Snipe, Buzzard, Red Kite, a flock of six non-breeding Ravens, and several Mountain Hares. We discussed the evolution of grouse moor management, the complex interplay of sporting and farming interests, and saw first-hand the steady march of wind farms and commercial forestry towards the margins of the estate.
Photo showing a wind farm on open moorland in the Lammermuir Hills, encroaching upon open landscapes holding breeding Curlews and other waders
In the afternoon we headed back south and arrived in the Peak District with just enough time to be fed dinner by our hosts before we launched into our next Curlew-themed talk, this one to a packed village hall in Bamford in the scenic Hope Valley. The event was hosted by a local sustainability group and the audience comprised local ornithologists, farmers, gamekeepers, and general Curlew enthusiasts, and included several familiar faces from the CRP network. There were lots of questions afterwards and good discussion about agri-environment scheme opportunities, some of which are being followed up by local groups.
Photo showing Mary in action at the well-attended CRP talk in Bamford
Email feedback from Upland Estate Manager
“I attended your presentation last night at Bamford and found it absolutely fascinating. I work on a moor within the Peak District and apparently take for granted just how successful our Curlew population is. I would like to sign up to your email system and receive any further info. I would also like to arrange some local group visits to my moor, hopefully some local schools will be interested. I will look into this with the Peak District Moorland Group. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us last night.”
Email feedback from local resident
“Thank you for the talk on Wednesday evening in Bamford, which I enjoyed greatly. Living close to Stanage Edge gives me the opportunity to see Curlews, as well as Lapwings and Golden Plovers, and your talk was very illuminating.”
Mary headed south on 07 April, but Russ took the opportunity to make one additional visit during the Easter holidays, this time to Linhope Estate in Northumberland, hosted by Wildlife Conservation Manager, John Queen. John and his team have recently initiated transect-based surveys of Curlews and other breeding waders, mostly on farmed in-bye and white ground habitats just below the moorland line where the highest densities are found. About 60 Curlew territories have already been mapped, but the total across the whole estate will likely be significantly higher. Displaying Curlews and Lapwings were certainly very evident during the visit, as were the abundant singing Skylarks. It was great to see the wide variety of conservation measures being delivered and planned across the estate, including sensitive tree-planting and re-wetting, as well as some of the clean-up operations following Storm Arwen. This increasingly complex portfolio of conservation activities is one of the drivers for John’s job title changing from Head Gamekeeper to Wildlife Conservation Manager. After a couple of hours of fruitful discussion, we identified an opportunity for Linhope to host a CRP training workshop next spring and for the CRP to support John and his team with survey and monitoring resources as they continue to develop a robust baseline dataset of breeding Curlews and other waders to inform future management of the estate.
We are very grateful to everyone that provided accommodation, dinner, and a warm welcome during our trip, and to all those who hosted, supported, and attended the two CRP training workshops, as well as our various CRP talks and visits. These ‘road trips’ are a vital component of our work, allowing us to talk directly with those on the frontline of Curlew conservation across the country and to understand different perspectives around challenging issues. It was great to see the abundance of wildlife at the sites we visited, and to see some of the encroaching pressures such as forestry and wind farms. How we balance the future retention of open landscapes (and the species that depend upon them), while also mitigating the effects of the climate and biodiversity crises, will be a key topic of discussion for the CRP in the coming months.