The Curlew was once a widespread bird in Northern Ireland but in the last 25-30 years the number of breeding pairs has declined by an estimated 90%.
A bird that was once found in most counties in the uplands or lowland wet grasslands is now restricted to just a few small areas, notably the Antrim Hills and Lough Erne.
CAFRE technologist Robert Beggs said: “The Glenwherry Hills Regeneration Partnership (GHRP) project has been giving the Curlews a helping hand on the CAFRE Hill Farm located at Glenwherry in the Antrim Hills. The 1040 hectare upland suckler cow and sheep farm is managed and grazed in a way that benefits a wide range of at risk species such as Red Grouse, Hen Harrier, Irish Hare and breeding waders such as the Curlew.”
Robert explained that all breeding waders on the site are benefiting from a combination of positive grazing management, rush control and the control of predators such as crows and foxes. To provide the best nesting conditions, and in line with the Environmental Farming Scheme controls, the numbers of livestock grazing the breeding wader area are reduced between mid-April and mid-July to a maximum of 0.75LU/ha. During this period no field operations such as rush cutting or fertiliser application are undertaken.
As waders nest on the ground they are easy prey for foxes and crows, but through the partnership the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust (IGCT) predator control programme has given nests and chicks a much better chance of surviving. One pair of Curlew have successfully fledged twelve young over the past four seasons. Through the partnership, the RSPB have been instrumental in identifying areas for scrapes to be installed and advising on rush control to ensure the site is ready each spring. The scrapes ensure that there is water and soft ground for chicks to feed on invertebrates in the potentially dry spring and early summer. CAFRE farm staff ensure that the wader area is grazed down short for mid-April, and increase the stocking rate again in late summer and autumn after the nesting season to maximise the livestock use from the summer flush of forage.
In 2021 the Curlew have returned, and a pair of Lapwing now look to have adopted the breeding wader site, in addition to over twenty pairs of breeding Snipe scattered through the farm.
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