By Rosewood Farm, Apr 16 2018 02:10PM
So far 2018 has been wet, wet, wet, as was the latter half of 2017 when we lost many acres of grass that either didn’t dry enough to be baled, or never got cut in the first place. The wet conditions also meant that the cows came inside early this winter, munching their way through the forage at an alarming pace; we were hoping for an early turnout - no such luck!
Prolonged Spring rainfall has left the ground saturated, and even farmers on the dry-lands are struggling to establish their crops or let animals out to graze. Here in the wetlands of the Yorkshire Ings thoughts of turning out are still weeks away and we are this week having to muck out the sheds for the second time this winter.
As disastrous as the wet weather is for farming, one resident that seems to be enjoying it is the Curlew. This family consists of 13 different species, two of which, the Whimbrel and the Eurasian Curlew, visit Rosewood each year to feed and, in the case of the latter, breed. They are the largest of our breeding wading birds, known for their characteristic long, curved beaks, which they use to probe the coastal estuary mudflats & wetlands in search of food. However, elsewhere loss of suitable habitat puts the Curlew in Crisis [pdf].
One woman who has done more than most for the humble Curlew is Mary Colwell, a producer & writer specialising in conservation and the Curlew in particular. In 2016 Mary undertook a 500 mile walk from the West coast of Ireland all the way to the East coast of England, fuelled only by an intense passion and desire to do more for these troubled birds. Curlew Moon, the title of her new book, follows the progress of this inspirational journey for the ‘new moon bird’. Published this week, just ahead of World Curlew Day on 21st April.
Meanwhile, back at Rosewood, ‘our’ Curlews are returning; their calls can be heard frequently overhead as they visit our fields to feed and establish their breeding territories. A combination of loss of habitat elsewhere and the organic wet meadows here means that we are seeing them, and hearing the Curlee-Curlee call, much more often than we used to.
The UK is one of three main breeding grounds of the Eurasian Curlew, and land use changes (drainage of farmland and moorland), along with increased predation, is a major driver of declines in breeding success. Curlews prefer traditional grazed wet grassland on which to breed - grazed so that the nesting birds can easily see approaching predators and wet to enable the newly hatched chicks can find enough food without expending too much energy in searching for it. You’d never fit that huge bill inside an egg so the immature beak requires lots of worms and insects close to the soil surface. The species only lays a single clutch of four eggs each year and the 8-9 weeks weeks it takes for chicks to hatch & fledge is a very risky time for the birds & their nests.
Nationally breeding Curlew numbers have declined in England by almost 50% in the last 20 years but here in Yorkshire Ings area, the Curlew is one bird that is doing well. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been change - fewer nests are found in the protected floodplain meadows of the nature reserve, but numbers on surrounding arable land are growing. This shows the importance of a variety of habitats for the birds to thrive in the countryside and while the nature reserve acts as a safe haven for many species, it’s real value is in helping to repopulate the wider area.
So what can you do to help the Curlew?
1. Well, not everyone has suitable land they can set aside for Curlews, but you can help us to manage our land in the best way by buying our beef.
2. Listen out for the evocative call of the Curlew near you and support farms where they thrive.
As a thank you for helping us to raise awareness of the Curlew crisis, we have a copy of ‘Curlew Moon’ to give away. Simply 'like' our Facebook page & share the World Curlew Day post by 21st April to enter!