Dales curlews helping to restore populations in south

A curlew in flight.

Curlew eggs from the Yorkshire Dales are being used to help reintroduce the iconic birds to areas in the south of the country where they are extinct.

Five estates in the district are taking part in the ground-breaking project, which has the support of Natural England.

Bolton, Grinton, Gunnerside, Reeth and West Arkengarthdale all have existing healthy populations of curlews.

Last year, 40 eggs from moorland and nearby grassland on the estates were taken for the scheme.

Due to the success of this initial pilot, 120 eggs have been taken this year, with gamekeepers selecting eggs from nests that are likely to fail and at a time of year when the bird still has chance to lay again.



The eggs are put incubators for around 16 days before being driven south.

The eggs are then hatched and the birds kept in secure pens away from predators until they are strong enough to be released.

The young birds will be released at three locations; the Duke of Norfolk’s estate in Sussex, Lord Cranborne’s estate in Dorset and the National Nature Reserve at Elmley in Kent.

Others involved in the project include Tom Orde-Powlett from the Bolton Estate, the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Renowned ornithologist Professor Ian Newton is the scientific adviser to the project.



Ian Sleightholm is the headkeeper on the Bolton Estate in Wensleydale.

He said the three estates had been chosen as they had predator control in place, with the scheme unlikely to succeed without this.

“We prioritise nests that are likely to fail anyway – for example if the nest is too close to a footpath or if predators are likely to eat the eggs, or if it’s in an area of grass that might be cut for silage.

“There are many reasons why a nest will fail naturally. We also try to take the eggs at a time when there is a possibility the adult bird will re-lay before the end of the season.”

Mr Sleigtholme said the Duke of Norfolk’s involvement was critical.

“He’s been able to talk with Natural England and MPs to drive this forward.”

The Duke has also employed two people who have worked on the ground in the Dales to help collect the eggs, keep them incubated and take them down south.

“It’s been a really proactive initiative with lots of monitoring going on,” added the keeper.

The birds will be fitted with satellite transmitters which will allow those behind the scheme to track its success.



Curlews don’t breed until their second year, but it is hoped the birds will return to the locations where they hatched to form new breeding colonies, although Mr Sleigtholme admits it is possible they may return to the Dales where the eggs were taken from.

The curlew used to be a common species in Britain, breeding in marshes, meadows and arable fields as well as on moorland. However, the curlew population

has declined rapidly in recent decades.

Experts say there are now only half the number of breeding curlew in the UK compared to 25 years ago, with the birds added to the UK red list in December 2015.