Guest blog: Walking 500 miles to save the Curlew

Today, BBC Radio 4 producer Mary Colwell-Hector will set off on a 500-mile walk to raise awareness and funds for the Curlew, a wading bird on the global red-list of species at risk of extinction.

I have always loved Curlews. With their ridiculously long bills and legs, they cut a funny sight. But this wading bird holds its gangling features with such grace and dignity.

The Curlew’s bubbling call was once a common sound in marshes, meadows and uplands. But the last twenty years has seen a breeding numbers crash by over 97% in Ireland and 80% in Wales. In England, the number of breeding pairs has halved.

I set off today – April 21st – from Enniskillen on the west coast of Ireland, walking 500 miles across Ireland, Wales and England to raise awareness and money for the Curlew.

My walk begins on the Feast Day of St Beuno, a medieval Welsh abbot of whom it is said that he gave Curlew his protection after one rescued his prayer book whilst he was sailing on the Irish Sea.

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Very few people realise that the Curlew is in such desperate straits. Even naturalists were unaware. It seems to be one of those birds that falls beneath the radar. They aren’t obvious birds, but once you begin to notice them you can’t help but love them.

Changes in how we farm have contributed to the Curlew’s decline. Curlew like places that are wet and messy; places that tend to be drained to create more suitable grazing for sheep and cattle. Dogs walking off the lead during the breeding season and an increase in predator numbers have further contributed to the decline.

My walk links landscapes where habitats are being managed deliberately to improve the lot of the Curlew.

I start my walk at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, where the RSPB have been working to increase Curlew numbers, demonstrating that it’s possible to reverse the decline.

They include the joint National Trust and RSPB project on the Migneint, a high moorland northern Snowdonia where large sections of the moor have been fenced off to provide breeding grounds for Curlew and other ground nesting birds.

I’m already looking forward to hearing the Curlew’s bubbling call; a yearning sound that seems to rise out of the moor.

Follow Mary’s Curlew Walk and find out how to help these elegant birds at www.curlewmedia.com

Mary will visit two National Trust projects in Snowdonia and the Peak District where we are working with partners to restore the moorland, creating better habitats for ground nesting birds like the Curlew. Read more about how we’re working to restore peatlands and moorlands.

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