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Can lessons from Finland help the plight of British curlew?

Our attention was piqued this week by a post on the Curlew Action blog. The group, fronted by Mary Colville, was established in order to improve the plight of curlew; to celebrating curlews across the world and highlight the dangers that they face.

With that in mind, Curlew Action often undertake visits to other countries to see how curlew are faring there; what management practises or habitats appear to favour curlew – or the opposite.

The blog in question revolved around a recent trip to Finland, where according to Curlew Action, curlew are “doing OK … especially in more northerly areas in the open bogs and mires, and on some farmland, but in the south, they suffer the same issues as our birds in intensively farmed landscapes, namely loss of habitat and drainage of land.”

There are lots of interesting points in the 4 blogs written from Finland, and we would recommend you read them all. But what we found most interesting was the section on predation.

In the UK, rewilding remains a hot topic, and one that provokes much discussion. Whether it’s bison, lynx, beavers or sea eagles, the reintroduction of species is guaranteed to ignite a debate. One of the arguments put forward by those in favour of reintroducing apex predators (ie lynx and wolf) is that having these animals back in the UK would help to rebalance biodiversity through their impact on ‘mesopredators’ – such as foxes.

Currently, these mesopredators inflict a lot of predation pressure on a number of struggling mammals and birds, for example ground-nesting birds or hedgehogs. Many of those in favour of bringing back the wolf argue that having them in the British Isles would limit the number of mesopredators lower down the chain, and therefore have a positive conservation impact on many of our endangered species.

However, the visit to Finland might disappoint some of our rewilding supporters. While Finland is home to both wolf and lynx, “curlews do badly where there are wolves, for example, in the southern agricultural areas, and do better in the northern areas where wolves are not tolerated because they threaten hunting dogs”. David Jarret, who was on the trip and is finishing his PhD on curlews breeding in both the UK and Finland, believes that “there is no data to support the presence of apex predators and ground-nesting bird breeding success.”

Another interesting point from the Finnish visit is the fact that, like in the UK, curlew appear to benefit from the management of land for shooting interests, albeit in different ways. Forestry in Finland are managed for black grouse shooting – meaning that predators are “managed to maximise the grouse numbers, and curlews benefit.”

On a previous blog, the Curlew Action team had pondered why it was that Finnish curlew appear to thrive in forestry and woodland while that has not been reflected in the UK – something that is a worry for everyone who wants to see more curlew, as tree planting and reforestation are very much ‘on trend’ in the UK at the moment. The worry is that if forestry and curlew are not compatible, curlew numbers are bound to fall over the coming years. However, could it simply be that the British forestry and woodland where curlew might otherwise choose to live is home to more predators than in Finland – due to a relative lack of predator management – rather than the fact that curlew and woodland are not compatible? The Curlew Action warn that it isn’t necessarily wise to take lessons directly from Finland; it is vastly different from the UK both in terms of human population density, habitat, and biodiversity. But even so, there are certainly some things worth thinking about.


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