Protecting the curlew whose call brings the first sound of spring North Yorkshire's uplands

David Hill who has curlews on his land and is part of the Partnership organising the Curlew Conservation Project.David Hill who has curlews on his land and is part of the Partnership organising the Curlew Conservation Project.
David Hill who has curlews on his land and is part of the Partnership organising the Curlew Conservation Project. | jpimedia
The call of the curlew is the sign of spring to many in the uplands of North Yorkshire.

The evocative sound heralds the bird’s return from its winter habitats to the breeding grounds they will have known all their lives.

And while the majority will spend their winter’s on the West Coast of Ireland or Morecambe Bay, a good number spend the coldest months of the year in Wensleydale.

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North Yorkshire is an important habitat for the bird which is described as one of the most endangered in the world by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Nearly 30 percent of the world’s curlew population can be found in the county and with numbers halved over the past two decades, World Curlew Day, was established to raise awareness of our largest wading bird and help safeguard its future.

David Hill, who has curlews on his land, is also chair of the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership (NUCLNP), which is developing a Curlew Conservation Project.

He said the birds usually arrived on his land in mid-February.

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“To hear the first calling curlews is awe inspiring and bodes of the spring to come.

“Their call is quite extraordinary,” he said.

“It is as if they have their own vocabulary and I get so much pleasure from watching them almost hover, wings in a ‘v’ shape as they descend to the ground calling vociferously.”

World Curlew Day was established two years ago, to highlight the dramatic decline in species numbers. The date, April 21, was chosen as it is around the time the first new chicks hatch, but Mr Hill said this year breeding has been delayed.

“The curlews arrived amidst the wettest winter on record,” he said.

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“They no doubt found plenty of worms, but the ground is so hard now they can only forage in wet flashes where a spring carries water to the surface. The dryness and lack of growth of the grass sward is delaying their breeding.

“We need rain desperately – something I certainly wasn’t saying in the middle of February.”

Curlews are ground laying birds and need long vegetation to nest in so they are shielded from predators.

Mr Hill said one of the reasons for their decline is the large number of egg predators such as crows, jackdaws and magpies which are encouraged by some of our farming practices.

“Curlews deserve greater respect from us,” he said.

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“We wreck their home through silage making and land practices that support abnormal populations of egg predators.

“Farmers need to make a living and provide our food and they too love their curlews so it makes utter sense to me that we need to address these practices.

“We can surely make life better for this wonderful bird,” Mr Hill said.

“We will all benefit if we do.”

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