Curlew tagging project in Yorkshire Dales reveals habits of under threat yet much loved bird
Curlews, easy recognisable due to their long thin beaks and summer call, are conservation red listed and with the UK having the third biggest population of them Europe, we have a big responsibility to play in ensuring their survival.
A project, by Farming in Protected Landscapes and funded by Defra, has been taking place in The Yorkshire Dales this summer to tag curlews so experts can build up a picture of the patterns of activity and habits that curlews have while they are in the region.
The team has been working with farmers and land managers, such as game bird estates and grouse estates, on how curlews are using land in the Yorkshire Dales.
It is the first time GPS and tagging has been used on curlews while they are in Yorkshire and involves attaching a device to them, a little bit like a rucksack which weighs about as much as a pound coin.
It stays on for one to two years, and will fall off naturally, but gives information as to where they are within a ten metre accuracy and updates every 15 minutes - giving a real time picture of the movement of the birds.
Samantha Franks is a senior research ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology and has been working on the project.
She said: “We have real time information on how the birds are moving around. We want to see how they use the different landscapes within the Dales. Do they do different things in silage fields, grazing pastures, rough moorland or grassland?
“We will compare how they move around in different habitat categories and how that changes from the beginning of the breeding season through to the hatching and rearing of chicks. We also get information about where they go after Yorkshire.”
Seventeen birds were tagged, males more than females as they are easier to catch, which was done using a feather decoy from a dead bird and playing the curlew calling sound to attract them into a net.
Using no sudden movements, and in silence, the tags are fitted as quickly as possible and the curlew is released.
Already the research team has been surprised by early findings.
Ms Franks said: “One of the things that has been the most surprising, particularly when compared with the habitats from other areas of the country, is how tightly packed they are in the Yorkshire Dales.
“There is a phenomenal density of birds there. You can have three different pairs in the same field and they know exactly where their territorial boundary is, even if it is not physical like a wall. They clearly know that is my ground, that is your ground.
“You can infer that the birds can get all they need for themselves and everything that their chick will need from a small area. We have a population in Norfolk that will travel six miles during the breeding season.”
She said that even farmers who know a lot about the species have also been surprised and results will be fed back to the Yorkshire Dales National Park to influence how they work with farmers and how Defra develops recommendations for curlews going forward.
It might mean that a silage field is turned into a meadow or changes to farming practices.
She added: “A single field can make a real big difference. Farmers are passionate about curlews and want to do the right thing, a lot do biodiversity schemes, but to make ends meet that is not sustainable for them. The modern farming economy is not good for farmers, for biodiversity and wildlife and that will be a challenge.”