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Farming in Protected Landscapes projects and Curlew conservation

On 05 Oct 2022 the Curlew Recovery Partnership (CRP) hosted an online workshop to share information about the Defra Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme, specifically in relation to existing and planned FiPL projects where Curlew conservation is a primary objective. The FiPL programme is not a conventional agri-environment scheme, but it does provide financial support to farmers and land managers in protected landscapes (i.e. National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) who are looking to deliver nature recovery, mitigate climate change, and improve public access and landscape quality on their land. The FiPL programme runs until spring 2024, but there are hopes that it will be extended beyond that; further details can be viewed here:

About 35 members of the CRP network attended the workshop, which was chaired by the CRP Manager, Russell Wynn, and supported by CRP Steering Group members Amanda Perkins and Tom Orde-Powlett. After a brief introduction to the work of the CRP, speakers from several protected landscapes across England provided updates on their FiPL projects and proposals. A summary of some of the key discussion points is provided below, and a recording of the full workshop is available in two parts on the CRP YouTube channel here.

All projects were focussed on the conservation of breeding Curlews on farmland, particularly those in silage-dominated landscapes. Some of the ways in which FiPL is being used to support action in these landscapes include:

  • Ornithological surveys to establish the distribution and number of Curlew breeding pairs, and to enable productivity monitoring.

  • Research to test the efficacy of different survey and monitoring methods, e.g. BTO Wader Calendar, drones and thermal imagers, and AudioMoth acoustic recorders.

  • GPS tracking of breeding Curlews to assess habitat use in silage-dominated landscapes.

  • Farmer liaison to identify interventions to reduce loss of Curlew eggs and chicks through grass cropping operations.

  • Assessment of compensation mechanisms and payment rates to underpin cancelled or delayed grass cropping operations to protect Curlews nests and chicks.

Some of the key issues raised included the difficulty of accurate productivity monitoring, which is a key success metric for most Curlew conservation projects, and establishment of appropriate compensatory payments that are both attractive to farmers and acceptable to Defra; the latter generated lots of useful discussion, as it was clear that different approaches are being taken in different protected landscapes. There was also lots of interest from practitioners in how the timing and nature of agricultural operations in silage fields could be optimised to support breeding Curlews, including harrowing, grass cutting, and aftermath grazing.

There were concerns raised about the interplay of agricultural operations and predators, e.g. Curlew chicks are often vulnerable to predation immediately after grass cutting, and at least one project noted that requested payments for lethal predator management within their (funded) project had not been approved by Defra. Although there was awareness of the need to monitor other biodiversity benefits arising from planned interventions, including other breeding wader species, this was unfortunately out of scope for several projects due to resource constraints. In addition, the requirement for experienced local field officers to support some of the above activities was noted.

In summary, the FiPL programme is providing a welcome opportunity to trial various farmer-led interventions in support of Curlew conservation; the outcomes should inform future roll out of Defra agri-environment schemes, particularly the middle tier of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. We will therefore be alerting our senior colleagues in Defra and Natural England to this blog and will look to organise a further CRP workshop in autumn 2023 to assess progress.

Finally, we are grateful to all speakers listed below who contributed to the workshop:

Clive White and Jackie Smith (Nidderdale AONB)

Paul Noyes, BTO (Yorkshire Dales National Park)

Barny Sykes (Lake District National Park)

Tarja Wilson and Sarah Robinson (Bowland AONB)

Gareth Brookfield, Cheshire Wildlife Trust (Peak District National Park)

Jon Avon, Duchy of Cornwall (Dartmoor National Park)

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