Speaker: Cat Macpherson
Reporter: Sue Gale
Our October indoor meeting was a special treat, being held in the Education Room at Pensthorpe Natural Park and including excellent cakes! A 20 minute film on the Curlew conservation project was introduced by Cat Macpherson, who went on to answer questions and discuss the project with a very engaged audience. (Cat’s enthusiasm was very infectious.) ‘A Curlew Calls’ introduced us to the lifestyle of the Curlew and to the project at Pensthorpe which aims to increase their numbers.
The curlew is Europe’s largest wading bird and is now red-listed, meaning it is of the highest conservation priority, needing urgent action. The UK is home to roughly a quarter of the global breeding population of curlew; some 58,500 pairs, but the species has suffered very significant declines since the 1970s due to loss of habitat and predation, with lowland England experiencing some of the most severe declines. Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has joined new East of England
Project Partnership with Natural England, BTO, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Royal Air Force. Which this year, collected eggs at eight military and civilian airfields across Eastern England. Airfields provide the kind of open grassland habitat preferred by ground-nesting curlew, but due to dangers to air safety posed by curlew nests close to runways, eggs were, until this project
began, destroyed by licence to prevent the, potentially catastrophic, risk of collision between birds and aircraft. The eggs were transported to a new purpose-built rearing facility at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT). Here they were incubated, hatched and reared, until ready for release at the two Norfolk sites; Sandringham Estate and Wild Ken Hill. All of the birds have been fitted with
uniquely coded coloured leg rings to be able to identify them if they are seen later on. A sample have also been fitted with radio and GPS tags to be able to keep tabs on them following their release by monitoring their movements and behaviour. With a total of 82 chicks reared in 2021, we hope this fledging success will enable the project to continue into future years and be a step to safeguard
and boost the wild population in the East of England.
After a longer than usual coffee break – the better to enjoy that cake and to catch up with old friends so seldom seen over the last 18 months – Cat gave us an update on the project. The facility will be doubled in size next year, although the intention is to resist the temptation to double the egg numbers as there was some overcrowding this year. Of the 106 eggs collected 87 hatched and 82 birds fledged. A much better ratio than found in the wild. The two release sites had been carefully researched and offered two different habitats. The 48 birds released at Ken Hill found themselves in a wet, marshy area, whereas those at Sandringham were on sandy soils so drier and more arable.
Released birds are carefully monitored by ringing and in 3 cases GPS tags were fitted. 22% of ringed/flagged birds have been reseen locally but one has been reported as far afield as the Exe estuary in Devon. Of the GPS tagged birds one has died, one, OE, is now at Frampton Marsh on the other side of the Wash, and one, 3A, has remained local to Ken Hill. When observing Curlews in the wild, please report to Pensthorpe any birds wearing a yellow flag with an orange ring on one leg and a yellow ring on the other. These will be birds from the project and all information is useful.
Our thanks are due to Pensthorpe for generously providing the venue for the evening and in particular to Cat for her engaging and enthusiastic presentation.
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly indoor / online meetings.