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People feeding foxes blamed for pushing New Forest curlew towards 'terminal' decline

PEOPLE feeding foxes or discarding food have been blamed for helping to push the rare curlew towards a “terminal scenario” in the New Forest.

Conservationists have warned that left-out titbits boosting the population of predators is a bigger threat to the birds than disturbance by dog walkers.

Professor Russell Wynn, manager of the Curlew Recovery Partnership, said the curlews are struggling to raise new chicks to maturity, with 40 breeding pairs locally.

Russell Wynn (58990613)
Russell Wynn (58990613)

The Fordingbridge-based Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust said it will soon launch a campaign to highlight how people are “unknowingly contributing to curlew decline by boosting a very large population of predators”.

Curlews are the largest European wading bird (58835927)
Curlews are the largest European wading bird (58835927)

A trust spokesperson added: “While dog walkers have rightly been encouraged to keep their dogs on leads to avoid disturbing nesting curlews, our research shows predation by foxes and crows is the biggest driver of curlew decline in the Forest, and their populations are heavily supported by discarded human food.

“Our aim is to get people to think more carefully about how they behave, as they can play a part in helping the New Forest curlew to recover.”

As reported in the A&T, in May this year an unnamed woman was caught on camera allowing her dog to attack a curlew nest near Burley and eat the eggs.

But it is the thriving predator population, assisted by feeding and access to waste food, which is now thought to be the main threat.

Prof. Wynn said: “There are between 50,000 and 60,000 curlews left nationally, but the population we have in the Forest is fairly significant on a regional level.

“In order to sustain their numbers, curlews need to produce an average of half a chick per pair per year, but our curlews aren’t achieving half that figure.

“Predation is the number one issue – out of around 80 curlew eggs laid in the Forest each breeding season, only about five or six of them fledge. The rest are lost to predators.”

Prof. Wynn said people who put food out for foxes are “enhancing one species to the great detriment of others” like the curlew.

Curlew chicks (Photo: Elli Rivers)
Curlew chicks (Photo: Elli Rivers)

He also said walkers and their dogs sometimes ignore warning signs meant to help isolate nesting birds.

Prof. Wynn added: “We need to get the message out that the heathlands and wetlands need to be respected.

“Curlew numbers are not in a good place and we want people to enjoy the Forest in a way that helps protect them.”

Mary Colwell, the founder of charity Curlew Action, wrote online: “The relentless decline of curlews across their range, particularly in lowland areas, and the enormous forces that are stacked up against them, seems to present a terminal scenario.”

Mary Colwell (58990607)
Mary Colwell (58990607)

A Forestry England spokesperson told the A&T the organisation takes a “number of actions” to protect nesting birds, adding: “This includes closing several Forestry England car parks that are closest to the most sensitive breeding locations from February to late summer.

“Prominent signage is in place across the Forest advising visitors how to avoid disturbing the birds.

“Our keepers also monitor the birds throughout the season and carry out targeted predator control in key locations, while park authority and Forestry England rangers patrol the most sensitive areas.

“There are a number of complex issues affecting the ability of ground nesting birds to successfully breed and we will be assessing the fortunes of the birds this year to help inform future actions.”

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