Stone-curlew making a triumphant comeback across England’s grasslands

The RSPB has reported the wonderful news that the stone-curlew, a rare grassland dwelling species that had previously suffered substantial declines, has been found to be making a comeback.

The bird has bee seen in healthy numbers across RSPB nature reserves, including RSPB RSPB Winterbourne Downs, near Salisbury.

The charity thanked conservation efforts and collaboration between its members, partners and farmers that have been ongoing for decades.

RSPB Winterbourne Downs saw its highest ever number of stone-curlews last year, with 11 pairs fledging an incredible 19 young. And with a record 30 pairs counted across RSPB nature reserves in 2022, the conservation charity’s efforts are contributing towards a triumphant comeback for the rare, amber-listed species.

However, the charity noted that this success story was tinged with uncertainty, … ‘as the nature of future support for Stone-curlews and other farmland wildlife through agri-environment schemes hangs in the balance’.

Stone-curlews migrate to Eastern and Southern England from southern Spain and northern Africa to raise their young. The birds are about the size of crows, have long yellow legs and are often described as being peculiar owing to their ‘golden orb-like eyes’ which they use to find food during the night.

Breeding on farmland, sandy heaths and downland, changes to agriculture had caused a loss of suitable nesting habitat prior to the start of conservation work and the birds suffered substantial population loss.

Nesting on dry, stony, open ground and feeding on invertebrates in short grass habitats, the RSPB, together with farmers, have been restoring and protecting suitable nesting sites across Norfolk, Suffolk and Wessex. Alongside suitable farmland, nature reserves such as RSPB Minsmere and RSPB Winterbourne Downs are now providing a safe haven for the birds.
RSPB England’s director, Nick Bruce-White, said: “The success of Stone-curlews across RSPB nature reserves and beyond shows just what can be achieved when conservation and nature friendly farming join forces to save our wild isles.

“With these enchantingly wide-eyed birds migrating to our shores to raise the next generation, we must do all we can to ensure they have enough suitable habitat to nest on. With much of our wildlife-rich grasslands and 97% of our wildflower meadows lost since the 1930s, it is only through working in collaboration with like-minded farmers, landowners and partners that we can continue to see a rise in species like the Stone-curlew here in England.”

Stone-curlews are highly sensitive birds and as such the RSPB has urged countryside-goers to watch their step and be mindful of ground-nesting birds, as adult birds can be disturbed by human presence as much as a third of a mile (500m) away.

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