Artists collaborate to support curlews in Yorkshire Dales

Artists who have collaborated.

Artists have collaborated on a project to celebrate the Yorkshire Dales and its wading birds.

Cry of the Curlew is the latest special exhibition at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

Among the artist featured is Spanish photographer Paco Valera, whose work shown alongside pieces by experienced and regarded North Yorkshire artists including Judith Bromley, Hester Cox, Robert Nicholls and Sally Zaranko.

The exhibition, which opened formally last Thursday during a meet the artist event, also features paintings of curlews by school children from the Craven area, an impressive taxidermy curlew on loan from the Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve in Catterick, and a 12-minute video featuring dairy farmers from Clapham describing their efforts to conserve the wading bird.

Cry of the Curlew is timed to coincide with the return of curlews to their upland breeding grounds.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is an international stronghold for the endangered bird, which could be considered as emblematic of the area as Swaledale sheep.

Paco said: “When I met my wife Babs, the writer of the poems in the exhibition, the first thing we did was come to the Dales.

“I was in love with the Dales. That’s it. It was love at the first sight. O my god. And then the birds. Those were what attracted me. I’ve been here for nearly 25 years, coming very often (to Sedbusk). So I need to give something back to this place.

“If we want to contribute to the curlews coming back each year, we need to collaborate. We try to gather here all of the artists. We are not competing. I encourage everybody to come here to see this spectacular exhibition.”

Sally Zaranko, from Whashton, near Richmond, spent a year watching curlews with her daughter.

She has produced linocuts, weaving and watercolour paintings.

“My part has been to spend a year following curlews from the coast back to the moors and back to the coast again, looking at how they migrate and nest. They literally come back to same field and same partner.

“When they come back from the coast they mark their territory through calling and display flights. The bubbling call is when they are kind of announcing ‘this is me, I’m back’.

“Through my art I feel I have a social responsibility to draw people’s attention to birds, especially those that are endangered. I am so fortunate: I can hear the curlew every day when they are back.

“It’s one of those sounds that can’t be allowed to disappear. So if my art makes somebody go, ‘oh so that’s a curlew, maybe I need to find out a little bit more’, then it might help keep them here for the next generations.”

Derek Twine, who is the member champion for promoting understanding at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, which runs the Dales Countryside Museum, said: “This is a brilliant exhibition.

“On the one hand it shows the threats to the curlew, which include many human behaviours. But on the other hand you’ve got the beauty of the bird, its gracefulness, and this gives us the incentive to do more to protect the curlew.

“The photography, the painting, the poetry – it makes for a deep experience for the head and heart. And the work that’s going on with the schools, as displayed in the exhibition, is really heartening.”

In 2023, following a visit to Hill Top Farm with Curlew Action Ambassador, Leigh Weston, children from Settle and Kirkby Malham schools worked with the charity, Curlew Action, and artists Sarah Smith and Sue Harrison.

The children explored the plight of the curlew and created quilted curlew landscapes using felt, posters, poems and paintings, which are featured in the exhibition.

This education work grew out of the Clapham Curlew Cluster, a group of 15 farms and 20 volunteers in the Clapham area.

Working in partnership with the RSPB and supported by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, the cluster is collecting data on curlew, including carrying out surveys. As part of this work June Gersten Roberts has created a film with farmers about their experience of curlews.