Under-threat curlews stage a comeback on Co. Antrim farm

For the first time in 20 years, curlew chicks have fledged at a Co. Antrim farm.

Last year a pair of curlews attempted to breed at Greenmount Hill Farm in Glenwherry, for the first time since 2005, only to fail to hatch young.

It was the mid-1990s when curlew chicks last fledged at the farm.

However, this summer the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Northern Ireland’s (RSPB NI’s) conservation advisor, Neal Warnock, was delighted to see that two pairs arrived back at the farm. He confirmed that one of the pairs has successfully fledged three young.

It is believed that these are the first curlews to fledge from the site since the 1990s. The news, RSPB NI said, is a real boost considering that over the past two decades, curlew numbers across the UK have almost halved. In northern Ireland, more than 80% of the curlew population has been lost since 1987.

Since 2009, RSPB NI, the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust (IGCT), the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) and other partners have been working as part of the Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Project (GHRP) on an integrated management approach in the area in a bid to ‘give nature a home in Glenwherry’.

“When news broke that one of the pairs had hatched three young, their progress became the talk of the community,” said Warnock. “It was a very long six-week wait watching them grow until they finally stretched their wings and departed.

Curlews only rarely fledge three young, so this was terrific news for all involved in the project, and should help see them become established on the farm.

Graeme Campbell, CAFRE’s GHRP Project Manager, said they were delighted with this year’s curlew success, and that the work to attract breeding waders over the last six years had also resulted in increasing numbers of snipe breeding on the farm.

Farmers and landowners have a crucial part to play in helping to halt and reverse the decline of curlews, according to RSPB NI.

The Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Project has undertaken a string of measures to make the area attractive to curlews and to encourage them to return. This has involved habitat management, including rush cutting and tree removal, as well as predator control carried out by the IGCT.

Joanne Sherwood, director, RSPB NI said the news highlighted that this partnership work makes a real difference to the fortunes of threatened species. “We see this as a milestone on the way to what we hope will be the recovery of curlews and other breeding waders in Glenwherry.”

Sites across the UK are amongst the most important in the world for breeding European curlews, hosting around a quarter of the global breeding population, according to RSPB NI.

Yet their numbers have declined due to factors including a loss of suitable habitat and increased predation.

The Antrim Hills and Co. Fermanagh are the last remaining hotspots for curlews in Northern Ireland.

In the wider Glenwherry area, there are approximately 45 breeding pairs recorded annually. The area is also home to lapwings and snipe.