The Upper Clun, Clee Hill and Strettons area Community Wildlife groups worked with the Shropshire Ornithological Society Save our Curlews campaign, to find nests, protect them with electric fences, and radio-tag and track chicks, to find out what happens to them. Failure of chicks to fledge is a major cause of the decline, and we need a better understanding of the reasons so we can develop effective conservation measures.
The fences were effective (none of the clutches in them were wholly predated), 23 eggs in eight nests hatched, and all except two of the chicks were radio-tagged.
In the Upper Clun, a brood of three (one tagged and two not) all fledged, but none of the chicks in the other tagged broods did, and there is no evidence that any of the other pairs in the three areas produced fledged young. Therefore 24-25 nests in the project areas with known outcome produced only three fledged young. More detail on the project results can be found on the website www.shropshirebirds.com/save-our-curlews/
The fate of the has now been analysed. Twenty out of the 21 radio-tagged chicks did not fledge, and, on average, these 20 chicks lived for only 5.5 days. Almost all, if not all, of the 20 tagged chicks that died were predated (none were lost to agricultural activities). There is increasing evidence, reproduced on the SOS website, that the food supply provided by the annual release of large numbers of Pheasants for recreational shooting (726,000 in Shropshire in 2018 alone, only one-third of which are shot), supports unnaturally high levels of predators and scavengers, particularly foxes, which in turn limits the breeding success of Curlews.
The seven other Community Wildlife Groups have been monitoring most of the remaining County Curlew population, and a total of 90-104 pairs (including the 24-25 in the three project areas) were found in 2021. Apart from the pair that produced three fledged young in the Upper Clun project area, there is no evidence that any of these other pairs produced any fledged young. In 2020, it is believed that only one of the 100 or so pairs monitored produced any fledged young.
Casual records have been collected of five other pairs. The eggs of four were definitely predated, but one or two chicks produced by the fifth, on farmland near Preston Brockhurst, may have fledged.
The results of this pioneering work are sent to the South of England Curlew Forum, the UK and Ireland Curlew Action Group and the newly-launched Curlew Recovery Partnership, so the work is an integral part of the case to Government for effective Curlew conservation measures.
It is therefore vital that we continue with the project work, if we are to have any chance of halting the decline.
We want to see if project work finds the same disastrous results in all parts of the County, so in 2022 we intend to undertake project work in the same three CWG areas, and expand the work into the north-west, around Oswestry and perhaps in the Severn-Vyrnwy Confluence.
Further information can be found about the work of the Campaign and Appeal, current plans and reasons for the decline, on the SOS website www.shropshirebirds.com/save-our-curlews/