Positive signs for curlew restoration at the Rare Upland Birds Project in Elan Valley

Positive changes are underway for curlew conservation in the Elenydd Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Elan Valley, thanks to the Rare Upland Birds Project.

With resources from Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) Biodiversity Funds for Ecosystem Resilience (BERF) and Heritage Lottery, and the Nature Recovery Fund, the project is run as part of the Elan Links scheme.  It works to turn the trend on the decline of this important species, with positive results for this nesting season. Five more nests were located compared to only one in previous years, and at least two more adult pairs were recorded in the valley, but it is likely there were more. 

The Eurasian Curlew is currently one of the highest bird conservation priorities in Wales, with an estimated 90% loss of curlew since 1993, at a rate of 6% every year, leaving around 400 to 1,700 breeding pairs. It is listed as a rare upland bird, along with Red Grouse and Golden plover.

With the extra funding from NRW’s BERF, Heritage Lottery and Nature Recovery Fund, the project focussed on landscape heritage to improve the management of bogs and cattle-grazed areas that provide the right mix of conditions to attract curlew to nest. It also increased its monitoring capacity and nest protection practices, which gave a better understanding of how many curlew use and breed in the Elenydd, and provided better protection for established nests.

Eluned Lewis, Elan Links Scheme Manager, said:

“The results during this year’s nesting season are looking positive so far, with a comprehensive attempt to identify all nest sites. We have been able to provide a good mix of cattle-grazed areas and improved bogs, which are so important to attract the curlew here, and for them to be able to feed and breed. 

“Monitoring the curlew can be quite tricky. They can nest in dense Molinia grass and so can be hard to find, needing specialist knowledge to spot them. We were able to invest more in monitoring this year, so we could better protect the nests we found from predators.  Even so, while protecting the nests lets eggs hatch, chicks are still vulnerable to predators like foxes and monitoring becomes difficult as the chicks are well camouflaged in the dense vegetation. There is still more work to be done, but we’re seeing definite signs that things are on the up and we have successes to build on.

“Tenants and farmers from the surrounding areas have also been really helpful in letting us know where they’re seeing the curlew, and it’s causing quite a buzz in the community. The tenant in the Important Upland Bird Area (IUBA) in the valley has been actively involved in locating and protecting nests”.

Clive Hammer, Tenant at the Elenydd said:

“I’m really proud to have been part of the work to monitor the curlew. It’s a rare upland bird, and with 400 to 1,700 breeding pairs left, it’s vital that we manage the landscapes where they can nest and breed”.

“It’s exciting to see that the project’s approach is bringing positive results, and I’m looking forward to seeing further developments over the next year.”

Ken Perry, Senior Environment Officer, NRW said:

“The work that Elan Links project has put into revitalising the curlew at Elenydd is so important. They have focussed considerable efforts on this important species over recent years in collaboration with its tenant.

“Funds from the Biodiversity Funds for Ecosystem Resilience focussed on improving grazing land and bogs, which is vital habitat for the curlew. Hopefully with continued work, the sounds of this iconic bird will still be heard in the Elan Valley in years to come”.

Minister for Climate Change, Julie James has pledged her support to help tackle the plight of the curlew.

Speaking on a recent visit to Ynys Wen to meet with Gylfinir Cymru/Curlew Wales, experts in curlew recovery, the Minister said:

“Ensuring our most precious habitats and species – including the iconic Curlew – are given the chance to recover and thrive is a key element of the Welsh Government’s commitment to tackle both the nature and climate emergencies.

“I want future generations to be able to hear the beautiful cry of the curlew, so funding through our Nature Networks Programme will be key in helping to achieve this through landscape and targeted interventions”.

“Seeing nature and biodiversity recover and thrive requires a Team Wales effort. Everyone must make the right land use choices for our wildlife, and we will support those who play a leading role in delivering a more resilient environment.”

The Rare Uplands Bird Project will continue its approach to curlew conservation and is considering further measures such as predator control, to help prevent further decline.

Elan Valley Trust are leading on curlew on Elenydd as part of Gylfinir Cymru, a Wales wide partnership of government organisations and NGOs working to save curlews in Wales. For more information go to www.curlewwales.org.