Conservation at Work

Blog & News


20th June 2024

Gamekeepers in the Yorkshire Dales hatched a cunning plan to save a clutch of curlew eggs after the mother bird was sadly killed by a dog off the lead.

The nest was located on farmland in Wensleydale where the famers, gamekeepers and landowner work in partnership year after year for curlew conservation.

The farmer saw the incident and contacted one of the gamekeepers to see if the rare eggs could be saved.

At the same time as one nest was being abandoned, on a neighbouring moor in Arkengarthdale, a curlew was spotted sitting on an empty scrape for three weeks without laying.

Darren Chadwick, coordinator of the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group said: “To see this female sitting on an empty nest for so long is extremely unusual. We thought that she must be quite inexperienced and perhaps just in her first breeding season. As soon as we were told of the abandoned nest we thought we might be able to solve two problems in one go by persuading the broody bird to hatch the motherless eggs. With an attendant male still supporting her, she was a perfect candidate for fostering.”

The gamekeepers are trained and licensed to monitor and approach curlew nests for their ongoing conservation work and also as part of the South Downs curlew translocation project, which is working to reintroduce curlew to parts of the south of England where they are locally extinct.

The eggs looked viable and were found to have strong heartbeats, which suggested a good chance of success. The first step was to take the eggs and place them under one of the keeper’s broody hens to ensure they did not cool down.

The eggs were then transferred to a special temperature-controlled incubator.

Replica eggs used for conservation purposes were placed into the nest on Arkengarthdale to gauge the female bird’s reaction. She took to them well and began to sit on the replicas.

After eight days in the incubator the eggs began to ‘pip’.

This is a crucial moment when the chicks are about to hatch out. It should trigger the release of hormones in the parent bird to ensure they will do their utmost to look after and feed their young. At this point the real eggs were placed in the nest and to the delight of all involved, three chicks have now hatched successfully.

Darren Chadwick continued:  “Everyone is delighted with the result and these chicks are fortunate to have hatched in an area where all the farmers, keepers and landowners work together to protect ground-nesting birds. We would urge everyone to please keep their dogs on a lead and stick to the paths during nesting season. This is one of the UK’s most important curlew habitats.”

Conservation work for the curlew continues year-round across the Yorkshire Dales by members of the Moorland Association.


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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