Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Protecting the Stone-Curlew in Wessex

 

As an integrated project, Colour in the Margins aims to deliver conservation benefits across a range of species reliant on arable farmland. Whilst the work that the project is carrying out is specifically designed to address the needs of 13 key species (10 plants and three ground beetles), it was set up to ensure that a whole host of other threatened farmland species will also benefit in the process. One such species is the weird and wonderful stone-curlew!

Image Credit: Ian Grier

The stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, is a rare migratory wader that can be found on farmland across Eastern and Southern England during the summer months. With their fluorescent yellow legs and wide staring eyes, they are indistinguishable from other farmland birds, although their cryptic camouflage and sneaky nature make them difficult to find, particularly against a backdrop of chalky soils.

Stone-curlews are a ground-nesting species, happily nesting on a variety of bare ground habitats, including fallows, spring crops and game covers. The Wessex Farmland Project, which includes our CitM Project Officer Rob Blackler, has worked alongside landowners, Natural England and the MoD over the last 30 years to implement a network of fallow plots that are specially created for the benefit of ground-nesting birds such as stone-curlews, lapwings and skylarks. These plots provide stone-curlews with suitable nesting habitat and are now the primary mechanism for the conservation of this species within arable environments. Unsurprisingly, these fallow areas are also of great significance for other wildlife, including some of the UK’s rarest arable plants like Pheasant’s-eye Adonis annua and red hemp-nettle Galeopsis angustifolia.

Image Credit: Ian Grier

Where stone-curlews choose to nest on unsafe habitat such as in spring crops, the project works alongside farmers to safeguard nesting attempts from farming operations. This can vary from marking nests to lifting chicks whilst land is prepared for cropping. Stone-curlew chicks rely on their ability to blend in with their environment for protection and will remain totally still when presented with a potentially dangerous situation, whether it be a predator or a tractor! With this in mind, it is particularly important that the project is present to locate and protect chicks where they are vulnerable to farming practices.

Within the Wessex Colour in the Margins area, the stone-curlew breeding season is well underway, and the team is hard at work monitoring their progress across several counties. Stone-curlews generally arrive in the UK from late February onward, where they quickly start prospecting for nest sites and establishing territories. Stone-curlews are double-brooded and will usually aim to raise two broods of up to two chicks. This means that they can be present on farmland well into the late summer, and last year some individuals remained in the country until November! Before their eventual departure in the autumn, stone-curlews will often congregate at traditional roost sites, and occasionally there can be over 100 birds roosting together on a single field!

Conserving stone-curlews in Wessex each year is a complex and ambitious undertaking, and this work is reliant on the good work of the farming community, many of whom have been helping us protect this enigmatic species for many years. Similarly, the project would not be possible without substantial volunteer input. We work with several highly-skilled and dedicated volunteer teams, each of which contributes a significant amount of time and effort into monitoring the population.

You can find out more about the work the project does at https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/wessex-stone-curlew-project/

Robert Blacker 

Wessex Project Officer - Colour in the Margins

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

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