Conservation at Work

Blog & News


21st April 2023

World Curlew Day – is an opportunity to celebrate the much-loved curlew.

The Moorland Association welcomes new research which shows that curlew are four times as likely to fledge a chick successfully on a grouse moor as on similar habitat without gamekeepers.

The research paper by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust studied 36 upland sites in England, Wales and Scotland, of which half were grouse moors with gamekeepers and half were moors without gamekeepers.

Curlew were recorded four times more frequently on grouse moors than on moors not managed for grouse and curlew breeding success was four times higher on grouse moors than on other landholdings.

The research also showed that grouse management is playing an essential role in preventing the UK extinction of this iconic species, which is globally near-threatened. Since 1990, the UK population has halved and once widespread, with the exception of grouse moors and islands, curlew are only breeding in low numbers in isolated locations.

GWCT Director of Research Andrew Hoodless said: “This study shows that curlew on grouse moors are fledging more young than required for a stable population. These areas maybe helping to slow curlew declines elsewhere by acting as ‘source’ populations, from where surplus young birds can move to populate other areas. Conversely, the upland areas where no grouse management takes place maybe acting as ‘sinks’ where, without an influx from elsewhere, breeding numbers will continue to decline.”

Mark Cunliffe-Lister, chair of the Moorland Association, said: “This research confirms the importance of grouse moor management to protect rare species of upland bird, in particular the curlew, one of our most endangered birds. The curlew is an incredibly vulnerable species and only a quarter of all curlew chicks survive their first year. As with all ground-nesting birds, their eggs and chicks are often taken by crows, gulls, foxes and stoats. Reducing the number of these generalist predators is a crucial method to help curlew have the best chance of fledging their chicks.

“Moorland managers provide the right habitat and a safe environment for the curlew to nest and breed successfully. This is why we see them return year after year. We are delighted to be able to donate some curlew eggs to the south of England again this year, to hopefully establish a new breeding colony in areas where they have become locally extinct.”

There were almost 900 wading birds on the sites studied by the scientists, of which almost half were curlew.

On grouse moors, it was estimated that 66 per cent of curlew pairs successfully hatched chicks, compared to just 17 per cent of curlew pairs on non-grouse moors.

Low breeding success, not loss of habitat, has been identified as the main factor affecting curlew numbers in the UK.

Upland gamekeepers work year round to conserve upland habitats not just for red grouse but also for other rare birds such as curlew, golden plover, merlin, hen harrier, oystercatcher, red shank and lapwing which are nationally rare but found in good numbers on grouse moors.

Sustainable grouse moor management results in high quality natural habitats for a range of moorland species, promotes carbon storage, water and soil health while also providing an income stream, creating jobs and protecting rural communities.


Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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