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Millions being spent on curlew recovery but NE still refuse to stop gulls decimating existing chicks

[Credit: Martin Hayward-Smith]

One of the great frustrations from land managers and gamekeepers is the obvious lack of common sense and sheer waste of public funds when it comes to the application of conservation policy.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the curlew, which has seen significant declines over the last 40 years largely due to increased agricultural practice and the devastating rise in the number of predators and failure to control them. In Wales and Ireland the curlew population has almost entirely disappeared.

Their last stronghold is on driven grouse moors where predation control of common predators has enabled their population to hang on in there.

Indeed, even the RSPB this week applauded the work of gamekeepers in aiding the population of curlews, saying in a recent newsletter: “the control of foxes and crows by gamekeepers managing moorlands for red grouse shooting may be important in maintaining breeding curlew populations and preventing further declines”.

In normal language this statement could be translated as: “Thank goodness upland keepers have managed to save the curlew population as the RSPB's efforts to do so, despite millions spent, have completely failed because we haven’t managed the predators well enough.” The lessons of Lake Vyrnwy demonstrate this.

[Credit: Martin Hayward-Smith]

Last year, recognising that without intervention the curlew faced extinction, Natural England led a project to boost populations of curlews in the East of England by taking eggs laid by curlews on airfields, then rearing and releasing them at different sites in Norfolk including Ken Hill Estate, Sandringham Estate and Pensthorpe Natural Park. This was an admirable scheme and widely supported, including by the Prince of Wales.

What wasn’t mentioned though is by the end of project it was said to have cost between £20,000 - £30,000 of public money, per curlew chick reared, once all the costs were calculated. That is an extraordinary amount of public money to spend per bird.

[Gull predation on curlew chicks]

And yet, at the very same time that this project is underway, in parts of the uplands where there is still a healthy but fragile breeding curlew population, we are allowing those chicks – which cost the public purse nothing – to be decimated by gulls as a result of Natural England failing to award any licenses to land managers to control their vast numbers. How does this make any sense to anyone?

On one hand Natural England are happy to spend millions of public money on innovative schemes to rear young curlews in the hope we can get some more chicks, and yet on the other hand it is not prepared to give licenses to save the chicks we already have?

For too long this madness has been allowed to carry on without anyone being held to account, largely as a result of the public not recognising or understanding what has been going on.

Last year data recorded in the uplands over the course of a six week period and submitted to DEFRA confirmed a total of 1,355 gull predation events on lapwing, curlew and golden plover chicks, which were just the ones witnessed from eye witness recordings. That is likely to just be the tip of the iceberg.

Enough is enough now. Surely licenses for gulls should be made available with immediate effect if we are to protect some of our most precious ground nesting birds, before it is too late.


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