National Trust celebrates as rare fledgling flies the Dunwich Heath nest

A stone-curlewcrouches in the grass. The species has bred successfully for the first time at Dunwich

A stone-curlewcrouches in the grass. The species has bred successfully for the first time at Dunwich Heath. Picture: JON EVANS - Credit: Archant

Stone-curlews have made the most of conditions created specifically for them on a Suffolk heath, raising hopes higher for a secure future for the enigmatic species.

A stone curlew stands guard over its nest. Picture: JON EVANS

A stone curlew stands guard over its nest. Picture: JON EVANS - Credit: Archant

Years of painstaking and highly specialised habitat management work at one of coastal Suffolk’s most important remaining heathland sites have paid off with rare stone-curlews breeding successfully for the first time.

The National Trust’s Dunwich Heath team is celebrating the fledging of a stone-curlew chick following expert habitat creation carried out specially for the species by lead ranger Richard Gilbert.

After suffering a serious national decline in numbers since the 1950s, stone-curlews clung on in the Suffolk and Norfolk Brecks with the area becoming the species’ national stronghold thanks to the efforts of conservation bodies and landowners. Such efforts have also helped a tiny remnant population on the Suffolk coast which is continuing to increase slowly - and now the Dunwich Heath success adds to hopes that the species will enjoy a better future.

Mr Gilbert said: “I’ve been using a small section of land at Dunwich Heath to create small rotavated (mechanically scraped) plots during the winter months, with the aim of encouraging stone-curlews to nest on them and this year a pair of them appeared. They are very easily disturbed and quite nervous birds and their first clutch of two eggs was abandoned at quite an early stage. Thankfully, they laid a second clutch and seemed much more determined the second time around.”

National Trust ranger Richard Gilbert, left, with the trust's east Suffolk coast and countryside ma

National Trust ranger Richard Gilbert, left, with the trust's east Suffolk coast and countryside manager Grant Lohoar and trust wildlifer adviser Dr Stuart Warrington on Dunwich Heath. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Temporary barriers had been put in place to deter predators but there was a setback - one of the chicks disappeared. Much to the relief of Mr Gilbert and his National Trust colleagues at Dunwich Heath, the remaining chick fledged after six weeks.

“It somehow managed to avoid foxes, stoats and crows,” said Mr Gilbert. “We have such a small area of land suitable for this kind of work here, so it’s fantastic that the chick survived and fledged. I’m already thinking about how we can expand what we do next year to help encourage more stone-curlews here.”

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Mr Gilbert worked closely with a specially licensed ornithologist to track and eventually ring the chick, which means its future travels will be monitored.

“Many of our neighbours in conservation charities are doing great work to help stone-curlews too, so I think what we’re seeing is all the work we’re all doing coming together and paying off,” said Mr Gilbert. “Stone-curlews are becoming a conservation success story and we’re seeing that when heathland is being managed better it really pays off for them. Working with others is a big part of that success story.”

Earlier this year the National Trust set out ambitious plans to help reverse the decline in wildlife on all the land in its care. In addition to creating 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025, the trust has pledged to create and restore priority wildlife habitats on 10% of the land it manages.

Stone-curlews - on the UK’s amber list of birds of conservation concern - nest on the ground and need closely grazed areas of short grass or bare ground, such as acid grassland, which makes up about 30% of Dunwich Heath.

East Anglia’s Brecks and Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire are the species UK strongholds, with a few outlying breeding areas such as the Suffolk coast becoming increasingly important.