Stone-curlew project looks to have secured their future in the Brecks

Stone curlew adult near nest and eggs, Breckland, Norfolk.
Picture: Chris Gomersall RSPB
Stone curlew adult near nest and eggs, Breckland, Norfolk. Picture: Chris Gomersall RSPB
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Stone-curlews could have a sustainable population within five years, conservationists believe, partly thanks to Brecks farmers.

A four-year £1.3 million EU-funded collaboration between farmers, RSPB and Natural England ended today with 144 more chicks fledging last year than when it began.

Feltwell farmer John Secker manages part of his land to help stone-curlews
Photo by Andrew Holland (RSPB)

Feltwell farmer John Secker manages part of his land to help stone-curlews Photo by Andrew Holland (RSPB)

Stone-curlews are crow-sized birds with large, yellow eyes which help them see at night, when they are most active.

Once widespread across farmland and heathland, numbers crashed by 85 per cent between the 1930s and 1980s due to habitat loss and changes in farming methods and there are only about 380 nesting pairs now.

Most of the breeding population is in small areas in the Brecks and Salisbury Plain with a small but growing number breeding on the Suffolk coast.

Stone-curlews are masters of camouflage and nest on the ground which puts them at risk from farm machinery.

Feltwell farmer John Secker goes the extra mile as an expert nest finder and holder of a British Trust for Ornithology licence for ringing birds. He monitors nests for the RSPB.

He said: “As a keen birdwatcher, I’ve always enjoyed seeing stone-curlews on the farm, and I’m pleased that the farm can provide habitat for farmland birds and other wildlife through the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. The RSPB helped with planning and setting up the scheme, and provides ongoing support with its management.

“We’ve had up to four pairs of stone-curlews nesting on the farm, and we have two stone-curlew nest plots. Both sites have attracted nests, and they’ve proved good for other species – this year, we’ve had 25 turtle doves feeding on one of the plots.”

Martin Harper, RSPB director of conservation, says: “The legacy of this project is a healthy population of stone-curlews, which we hope will become sustainable within five years if enough habitat is created.

“We trust that communities, landowners and managers, volunteers, and government organisations will continue to protect this special species.”