Celebrating World Curlew Day on the Weald Moors
When was the last time you saw a Curlew? Until relatively recently, this iconic wading bird was a fairly common summer visitor to much of Shropshire. Sadly, times have changed and efforts are now underway in the county to reverse an alarming downward trend in its fortunes. Here on the Weald Moors, this joyful harbinger of spring still nests in a number of locations. So, could more be done to strengthen its foothold in a landscape recognised as a regional stronghold for several other bird species?
It’s estimated that Britain is home to around a quarter of the World’s Curlew population, which makes its demise here of global concern. Since the mid-nineties, the numbers of breeding birds have plummeted by over 40% and in Shropshire that figure may be even higher. If you’re unsure what Curlews looks like, or why places like the Weald Moors are so important to their survival, can I suggest making a detour to the wildlife safari section of this site for a brief introduction? Hopefully, it will provide some insight into why so many people are passionate about ensuring they are not consigned to the ranks of locally extinct species alongside the Corncrake and Nightingale.
Big Landscape Ideas
The epic problem facing Curlew can essentially be boiled down to one conundrum: we have an ageing population that is not successfully rearing enough young. This dilemma is being replicated across Europe and numerous studies into the plight of the bird all point towards two common factors in its continent-wide decline: loss of nesting habitat and predation of young. The reasons for this particular state of affairs are many and varied (and far too complex to discuss adequately here). What is certain, however, is that no amount of finger pointing is likely to provide a solution! Indeed, many once disparate factions, including national conservation groups, the shooting lobby and the farming community, are increasingly working together to try and improve the fortunes of young Curlew in places where they could potentially flourish. However, in the long term, unless something is done to provide more good quality habitat in which these birds can thrive, their decline will in all likelihood continue.
The Wet and Wild Moors
Curlews are typically found in wet, wide-open spaces with limited tree cover. To anyone familiar with east Shropshire, just such a location should be only too easy to imagine because between Wellington and Newport there lies fifty square kilometres of some of the lowest, soggiest land in the county! Indeed, the Weald Moors are already recognised by Telford and Wrekin Borough Council as a landscape of special character with a key role in carbon capture (locked deep within in its ancient peat soils) and water storage — for the moors help drain a significant portion of the Severn catchment in the east of the county, via the River Tern.
Yet, despite being part of the Meres and Mosses natural area (a vast tract of land as ecologically important to Britain as the Norfolk Broads and the Lake District), incidents of Weald Moors-wide conservation are depressingly slight in recent times. Indeed, what little evidence of local joined-up activity there is appears more concerned with spiriting water away from the moorlands than harnessing its natural properties. Curlew need large areas of land in which to thrive and there are reasons for optimism on the Weald Moors, where there are already landowners doing great work for nature. However, we believe much more could and should be done and that is why we’ve published a booklet and built a website to raise awareness of this special place. On April 21st, we were one of myriad organisations that contributed a social media post in celebration of World Curlew Day and the many activities centred on conserving this charismatic species. It is high time the Weald Moors played a more active role in that important work.
With thanks to Stephen Barlow for the allowing us to reproduce his wonderful images of Curlew