Curlew in the Braydon Forest: 2019 Project Summary and Next Steps

The Braydon Forest has historically been a stronghold for Curlew in Wiltshire. Throughout the 20th century the area was identified, again and again, as holding a significant proportion (potentially up to 80%) of the county’s breeding Curlew. In 1994 a full survey of the Braydon Forest was undertaken and located 23 pairs. In the intervening 25 years anecdotal evidence suggested this number had fallen, so in 2019 the Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC) and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) decided to undertake another survey to get an up-to-date population estimate.

With the help and co-operation of many local farmers and landowners, plus a number of volunteer observers, over 9000 Ha of land across the Braydon Forest was surveyed for breeding Curlew from late March until the end of April. Similarly to the 1994 work; surveys were targeted on areas where there were previous records of breeding Curlew and any suitable areas of habitat close by. When Curlew were observed then the location, behaviour, date and habitat were recorded. Breeding pairs were then monitored to look at nesting success.

This work revealed that there are just 5 pairs of Curlew remaining in the Braydon Forest, with no successful nesting in 2019. It is very clear that immediate action to understand and protect these birds is needed.

This is where the West Wilts Ringing Group comes in. WSBRC has secured grants totalling £5500 from Wessex Water and the British Birds Charitable Trust to undertake tagging work on the Braydon Forest Curlew. Ringers from the group will be key in helping to catch, colour ring and tag these birds. The lightweight tags will remotely send data on bird’s movements to base stations that will help us identify key sites areas of habitat for breeding Curlew in the Braydon Forest and safeguard these sites. Re-sightings of colour ringed birds will help identify wintering areas and allow us to monitor return rates of the breeding population. This will feed into work with local landowners to improve the habitat for Curlew.

The future of Curlew in the Braydon Forest looks uncertain, but by taking action now there is still time to save these birds.