A MAJOR new conservation initiative seeks to address problems for a globally near threatened species.

Grants are now available through the project to help farmers carry out works to improve habitats for curlews.

The UK-wide project aims to take on the ground action for breeding curlews in five specially chosen project sites which remain curlew ‘hotspots’.

Christina Taylor, RSBP Project Officer for Northumberland and Cumbria, said; “The haunting call of curlews returning to their breeding grounds is for many a sure sign that spring has come to the uplands. But these much-loved birds are at risk of being lost from our countryside if swift action is not taken."

Curlews in Crisis is a four-year project managed by the RSPB and aims to improve and expand breeding habitat for curlews in each of the project sites.

The Northern England project site covers 77 square miles of farmland to the north and west of Haltwhistle, incorporating parts of the Hadrian’s Wall corridor, the South Tyne Valley and RSPB Geltsdale Reserve.

It is funded by the European Commission LIFE programme; the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Christina, who lives in the Tyne Valley close to Hadrian’s wall, added:  "The problem is that not enough young curlews are being produced each breeding season to maintain the breeding population.

"This has meant that the number of breeding curlews has nearly halved in the UK and some areas have lost their curlews altogether.

"The reasons for these losses are varied but the evidence to date suggests declines are largely due to poor breeding success alongside the loss of breeding grounds.”

Curlews use a variety of fields farms such as hay and silage meadows, rough pasture and moorland to live and feed. Ideal breeding sites provide both nesting and feeding opportunities. Curlew chicks are not fed by their parents so are reliant on finding their own food as soon as they hatch – mainly surface insects and spiders.

Through land management techniques farmers can provide ideal habitat conditions for curlews in time for them start breeding in early April and help protect nests and chicks by avoiding or reducing stock and machinery movements until the end of the breeding season. These measures combined will increase the chance of curlews breeding successfully.

Christina said:  “It never ceases to give me a thrill to hear the first curlew of the year, especially knowing how increasingly rare that is. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with farmers and land managers to support curlew conservation in the area where I live.”

The RSBP say that having feeding areas close to their nest means that chicks avoid having to make potentially dangerous journeys to find food.

Rush cutting is carried out on many hill farms to create more grazing for sheep and cattle.

This can also benefit curlews when the cutting is carried out to create large, open areas to feed in whilst leaving taller, denser patches for cover and nest sites.

Digging carefully placed shallow scrapes in the ground or blocking field drains creates wet and muddy patches which helps to increase insect food abundance and availability.

Christina explains how to get in involved: “These are just two examples of really beneficial actions that can be funded through the project. We would love for farmers to get in touch if they would like to find out whether they are eligible to receive the grants or if they simply want to learn how they can help curlews on their land.”

Christina can be reached by phone on 07935 014924 or email at christina.taylor@rspb.org.uk. Further details on the project are available at curlewlife.org