The annual report of the Curlew Conservation Programme for the 2022 breeding season has been published on the NPWS website. Curlew (Numenius arquata ), once a common species of the Irish countryside, suffered a rapid decline (96%) in just over three decades. Many people remember their distinctive and unmistakable call spreading through bogs and wetlands. Unfortunately, this sound has disappeared from many places, and habitat loss and degradation are some driving factors of this iconic bird’s decline.
Curlew is on the Red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland. Since the late 1980s, the number of breeding pairs dropped from an estimated 3,300-3,500 to no more than 150. In 2017 The Curlew Conservation Programme, which is funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, was established to protect Curlew nests and nesting habitat in an effort to prevent the extinction of breeding Curlew in Ireland. This programme is active in nine areas across Ireland. Each area has a team consisting mainly of local stakeholders, including advisors, community engagement and nest protection officers, landowners and other local interest groups. Some of the programme’s key elements are field surveys, nest protection, and habitat maintenance and restoration.
For the first time since the programme started, the surveys were also aided by satellite-tagging of adult curlews. These tags provided information not only on their movement but also on their roost sites, feeding sites and nest locations, and targeted conservation actions were put in place. In addition, two pilot projects involving head starting (rearing chicks in captivity and their release) were introduced, demonstrating the potential for increasing the survival of the chicks.
Unfortunately, despite all the programme’s efforts, the results in 2022 were disappointing as most of the areas failed to fledge chicks, and the numbers of breeding pairs, nests, and eggs dropped compared to 2021. Low temperatures in the spring and summer of 2022 also had a negative impact on this breeding season.
Conservation efforts alone can hardly bring back Curlew’s numbers to sustainable levels or even stop their decline. Their survival will depend on many factors, especially large-scale changes in agricultural practices, land use, and habitat protection and restoration programmes.