Government is threatening endangered curlews by banning control of predators, GWCT warns
Government red tape is threatening Britain's most endangered bird by not allowing gamekeepers to kill its predators, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has warned.
Curlews are informally known as "Britain's panda", as we sustain one of the world's most significant populations of the threatened bird, which has lost 80 per cent of its population in the past 30 years. Britain has 25 per cent of the world's breeding curlew population, and there are only 68,000 breeding pairs left.
At the moment, crows and foxes can be killed to protect endangered species if a licence is granted by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), but since last year, after a legal challenge from Chris Packham's Wild Justice, group, permission is not granted on Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation in England.
This is despite the fact many are designated specifically for curlews. The birds nest on the ground, making their eggs and young vulnerable to predation by crows and foxes. Because curlews are so long-lived; they live up to 16 years while most birds live up to 4 years, they flee the nest when there is danger because they can breed the next year.
However, this means that in areas with large populations of the predators which plunder their nests, they routinely fail to breed at all.
Data from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust shows that if predators are allowed to roam free in Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, England's population will plummet by 61 per cent within five years.
This issue is a political hot potato for Defra, as animal rights campaigners such as Chris Packham have led high-profile campaigns and threatened to take the government to court in order to make it more difficult to kill predators.
Andrew Gilruth, the Head of Communications at the GWCT, said: “Measures put in place to designate the special protection areas are now working against species. Not all of them are designated for curlews, but some of them are, and curlews are highest priority conservation species in the UK for RSPB, Natural England and GWCT. In the UK we have 68,000 pairs but these strongholds are not breeding enough to sustain themselves. They are twice as successful in gamekeeper controlled land as they control foxes and crows as part of their job."
Natural England Head of Licensing Bradley Tooze said: “We fully recognise the urgent need to take action to protect our native curlews.
“This is why work is already underway to secure the long-term future of their population, including ambitious work with a number of conservation initiatives across England that will restore lost habitats and give them the space to thrive.
“All birds are protected by law and where there is a need to control wild birds for conservation, legal requirements must be met to ensure it does not affect the long term survival of the species being controlled.”