Curlews – We will miss them when they are gone

The curlew is in decline.

I know that. I have been walking in the Goyt valley, and Wildmoorstone in particular for 20 years. Fifteen years ago a stroll along the old disused railway above the valley would be accompanied by as many as 20 -30 individual curlews, often sitting on the drystone walls.

Some of them would nest on the sides of the valley and the wet marshy valley floor seemed to be an attractive feeding site for them. We would often have a picnic near to ‘picnic bridge’ when the children were young and while they played in the stream, I would watch young curlews crouching in the heather and long grass, while the adults were away feeding.

Today I am lucky if I see a couple of the upland wader on my walks above Wildmoorstone. Their mournful bubbling cry still echo’s around the moors but their numbers have crashed. If anything they seem to be abandoning the moors in favour of the farm land. You can hear them on Fairfield Low and Waterswallows and see them flying high and fast to escort a buzzard or a raven off their territory.

We are given many reasons for their decline. Change in land use, predators, irresponsible dog walkers who either cannot read the notices asking them to keep their dogs on a lead during the nesting season, or willfully ignore them to allow their dogs to roam through the curlews nesting sites, to name three.

Grouse moor owners claim that their managed landscapes are havens for curlews and other upland waders, and yet their activity, the encouraging of large numbers of red grouse, encourages an increase in predators, so that curlews nesting on the margins are at increased risk.

We need to act before it is too late. A joined up plan involving farmers and other landowners to create curlew friendly habitats is needed as a matter of urgency. And of course it is not just the curlew. Lapwings, snipe and golden plover are also at risk. We may be luckier than most in the Peak District, we still have them in reasonable numbers compared to else where. But that is all the more reason to act now,before it is too late.

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