Published: 14/04/2017 16:34 - Updated: 14/04/2017 16:43

Curlew numbers sink but golden eagles soaring

Written byMike Merritt

Concerns are rising for the future of curlew in Scotland
Concerns are rising for the future of curlew in Scotland

Two of Scotland’s most loved species, curlew and puffin, have joined the growing list of threatened bird species, according to a major new report.

The study highlights that more than one quarter of UK birds are in need of urgent conservation effort.

However, there is good news for other species such as golden plover and crested tit which have seen improvements in their numbers.

The state of the UK’s birds 2016 (SUKB) report underlines how more than a quarter of the UK’s regularly- occurring bird species, including many whose strongholds are in Scotland, are now what conservationists refer to as ‘Red-listed’.

Many of these are due to severe recent declines in numbers and/or range in the UK, and eight are considered at risk of global extinction including puffin.

Upland species continue to struggle, with five added to the Red List, giving cause for concern.

Europe’s largest and most distinctive wader – the curlew – has been added to the Red List and is joined by dotterel, whinchat, grey wagtail and merlin.

This highlights the fact that many of the upland species are in increasing trouble, with the total number red-listed now 12.

The UK hosts up to a quarter of the global breeding population of curlew, with around half of the UK population found in Scotland.

As a result this could be considered one of the most important countries in the world for breeding curlews. But in recent decades, numbers across the UK have almost halved due to habitat loss.

With a much smaller population, predators are now having an effect on what was a resilient population.

The curlew is considered globally ‘near threatened’ and with urgent action required to halt their decline, an International Single Species Action Plan has been created. They are known for their evocative call and distinctive long curved beak.

Dr David Douglas, Principle Conservation Scientist, RSPB Scotland, said: "Scotland is incredibly important for curlew, being home to around half of the UK breeding population.

"Sadly, numbers are declining here and more widely across the UK. RSPB is leading a Curlew Recovery Programme, working in partnership with a range of organisations, which aims to stabilise and recover curlew populations.

"Testing the effectiveness of management interventions will help us understand how to deliver ‘curlew-friendly’ conservation across their breeding areas."

The report also highlights that wryneck, a sparrow-sized bird which is now a rare migrant to the UK, has become the first once widespread breeding species to be lost from here for nearly 200 years. The last known breeding was in Scotland in 2002.

There is good news in the report for other species iconic in Scotland.

The 2015 golden eagle national survey numbers shows that their numbers have increased by 15% since the previous survey in 2003 - all breeding pairs are found in Scotland.

A number of species have moved from the Red list to the Amber or Green lists.

Most notably the red kite, once one of the UK’s most threatened species, is now on the Green list thanks to the efforts of conservationists and landowners.

Reintroduction of red kite took place at four locations in Scotland, with population growth and expansion varying between each site.

The overall success demonstrates that there is cause for hope for other Red-listed species and that targeted conservation action can make a real difference.

But Geoff Hilton, Head of Conservation Science at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust , said: "The call of the curlew is one of the really magical elements of British nature, celebrated in poetry and song.

"Now we know that we are losing them; fewer and fewer people are getting to experience their song. But the curlew has one big thing in its favour: it is loved by many, many people.

"I’ve seen the enthusiasm and determination to turn their fortunes around – from farmers, conservationists and the public – and this convinces me that we can do so."

Andy Douse, Scottish Natural Heritage senior ornithologist, added: "Scotland’s uplands are particularly important for species such as whinchat, merlin and dotterel in the montane zone.

"We need to understand the reasons for these changes and the management measures required to slow or halt declines being witnessed.

"While some declines may be due to climate change, other pressures affecting birds are probably linked to land use changes, habitat degradation, and predation.

"Developing long term, sustainable management measures within the uplands will be crucial in reversing these changes."

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