Suffolk: Rare bird flourishing

NUMBERS of one of Suffolk’s rarest farmland birds have more than doubled in England in the past two decades, conservationists said today.

In the 1980s there were just 160 pairs of stone-curlews in the UK, all found in southern and eastern England, the RSPB said.

But this year, 370 pairs of the ground-nesting bird are known to have bred – a recovery in numbers which the RSPB puts down to efforts by conservation groups and farmers to turn their fortunes around.

The dove-sized, long-legged wading bird increased its population by 11 pairs on last year’s total this year, and breeding success jumped from 164 chicks in 2009 to 240 chicks in 2010.

The stone-curlew is mostly found in Wessex, particularly around Salisbury Plain, and in the Brecklands on the Norfolk and Suffolk border. Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “Farmers have rallied to the cause of the stone-curlew and the bird’s UK recovery owes much to their support.”

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He said stone-curlews nested on bare open areas, often choosing fields where nests and young can be lost to routine farm operations. The RSPB helps farmers identify threatened sites and protect them.

Despite the success, the conservation charity is concerned over the future of the bird’s recovery following what it describes as the “squeezing” of funding for wildlife-friendly farming schemes in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

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Under the agri-environmental Higher Level Scheme farmers receive support to manage parts of their fields for stone-curlews.

Dr Avery said: “We target the right management measures to the places where it can make the most difference, and it works.

“For example, this year, approaching half of the stone-curlews in south-west England were on specially-created plots and these birds were slightly more successful in raising young than the rest of the population.”

He said the RSPB wanted to see more heathland and downland – the traditional open habitats where stone curlews breed – brought into good condition for the benefit of the birds.

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