Slipping Away

Slipping Away
Faithful Friends

Interesting to watch the increasingly panicked press releases about the parlous condition of the breeding curlew in Britain. Sadly, the majority of visible progress made in the effort to conserve these birds over the past few years seems to have amounted to a few studies and reviews into the importance of “doing something” and “acting fast”, but little in the way of definitive, practical action.

Curlews have become the casualties of the latest round of anti-grouse shooting publicity. Studies demonstrate that curlews depend upon a rigid predator control programme if they stand a chance of breeding successfully, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a perfect opportunity to establish common ground between the disparate factions of shooting and birdwatching. As it, flailing, ham-fisted efforts to ban grouse shooting altogether at this crucial moment do little more than drive a wedge between two potential allies, and waders look set to fall through the gap.

Unfortunately, visions of the uplands which depend upon “rewilding”, and the natural establishment of native woodland are anathema to curlews. As it is, we have the means and the knowledge to resurrect and sustain large numbers of curlews in this country – we even have gamekeepers determined and hardworking enough to make it happen – but we choose instead to wring our hands and grimace.

The future looks bleak, and the prospect of losing these birds in the hills is extremely hard to swallow. As with black grouse, I arrived too late on the scene to see these birds at their peak in Galloway. All that remain are the stragglers – the odds and sods left in the wake of a mighty procession that was centuries long. I can only imagine how the hills must have been in my grandfather’s time, and I am pathetically grateful to these last few birds. They hold back the silence.

2 thoughts on “Slipping Away

  1. rupert stutchbury

    It is not just that. I live in Ireland. and draining wet land and bog, ‘improving the hill grazings, anti foul paint on small boats moored in the bays, in fact more or less everything has gone against the Curlew and the Lapwing, Snipe, Teal, Golden Plover and all the others that like to nest on the hill and go back down to the wet areas for feeding. Grouse shooting arguments do not feature in Ireland and we have lost as big a percentage as you have.

  2. Steve Carver

    I have another theory (see my earlier thoughts on predator control under “Larsen Theories” June 2015 This theory involves the stated plight of upland waders and use of this as justification for predator control to maintain their numbers… and those of red grouse. I’ll start with a question. Where did Curlew (and Lapwing and Golden Plover) nest before managed grouse moors became their favoured and last-stand habitat, which in of itself is not a natural habitat? How did they manage before predator control? Why are mustelid and corvid numbers so high as to warrant our intervention and where is their predator control?

    Lapwing and Curlew both are equally happy breeding on lowland grassland, heaths, bog, fen and marsh, all of which have now largely been drained and ploughed for intensive and highly profitable arable land. Surely this has just displaced what few birds remain onto moorland habitats? The next bit is rather more difficult to prove (though I know of several examples) but aren’t many of the former lowland breeding sites, now intensive arable, owned by the same people who, by and large, own the grouse moors? Or at least are the same people who participate in driven grouse shooting?

    I hope you can see where I’m going with this. I am, of course, happy to hear evidence to the contrary. Again, are we in danger of ignoring basic ecology here, complicated in this instance by land ownership, field sports and moor management? As I understand, in a more natural state the bulk of our uplands would be covered with a mix of woodland, scrub, bog and heath, whereas instead they are grazed, burned, cut and shot over to the benefit of a single species (red grouse) which happens to also conveniently benefit a few other habitat-associated bird species. Isn’t it a wonder then that this has become such a contentious issue?

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