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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-11737: Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland)

Scottish Labour

Date lodged: 3 October 2017

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the reported decline in the breeding curlew population, including what factors it considers are contributing to this; what action (a) it and (b) its agencies are taking to address the decline and, in light of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s recommendations in The status of UK Special Protection Areas in the 2000s: The Third Network Review, what plans it has to establish more protected areas for the species.

Answered by: Roseanna Cunningham 24 October 2017

A recent study “Environmental correlates of breeding abundance and population change of Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata in Britain”, published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in 2017, looked in detail at the factors affecting the decline in curlew populations. This report identifies that degradation of habitat is a key driver of population decline, alongside impacts from afforestation of upland areas and intensive agriculture. The report also identified that generalist predators have an effect, with curlew numbers lower in areas with greater crow abundance and with a higher likelihood of fox occurrence. A decline in curlew populations is also greater in warmer, drier areas, potentially through impacts on curlew’s invertebrate food. These trends in curlew populations are summarised in “Official Statistic for Terrestrial Breeding Birds”, published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in November 2016.

The Scottish Government’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) under the Scottish Rural Development Programme is the principal mechanism for delivering beneficial environmental management for a wide range of species including curlew.

There is a suite of management options that land managers can select as part of their whole farm application, including:

  • Wader and Wildlife Mown Grassland: to benefit waders such as lapwing and curlew by extensively managing hay and silage fields which will reduce the risk of damage to birds, their eggs and fledglings from field operations. Leaving an area uncut will also provide cover for the birds.

  • Wader Grazed Grassland: to benefit ground nesting birds, particularly waders such as lapwing, redshank, snipe and curlew, by excluding or reducing the number of livestock in fields where birds are nesting to reduce the risk of damage to their eggs and fledglings from trampling or field operations.

  • Creation of Wader Scrapes: to benefit wading birds, such as lapwing, snipe, curlew and redshank, by providing suitable wet areas within grassland to provide insect-rich feeding areas. Scrapes are shallow depressions with gently sloping edges, which will hold water during spring and early summer when waders are nesting and rearing chicks.

Many other AECS options should also benefit curlews, as they relate to grazing management and habitat creation and restoration and can include fencing to benefit particular areas of the holding requiring particular management.

Site protection, alongside habitat restoration and reducing the negative impacts of predators, are potential ways to reverse the decline in the curlew population. SNH is a partner in the Working for Waders project which is collating details on current work to help waders, including curlews, towards the development of national action. This will be achieved through practical actions, as well as research, data gathering and promotion of best practice management. An interactive map is currently being developed to show the geographical coverage of these local actions. The Working for Waders project will coordinate existing actions and stimulate new projects and activities by a number of stakeholders across Scotland.

The Third Special Protection Area Network Review listed curlew as having insufficient network coverage in relation to numbers, range and ecological requirements (breeding) and numbers and ecological requirements (non-breeding).

SNH has commissioned BTO to analyse data from the latest Bird Atlas to identify any areas that have a particularly high concentration of breeding curlew. Once this and other information has been assessed, SNH will provide advice to the Scottish Government on potential actions.

On a wider scale, the UK is party to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), under which a Single Species Action Plan has been developed to help conserve the curlew across its range. SNH is working with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to identify regional actions that may contribute to this Plan.