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Breckland Breeding Bonanza

Stone-Curlews On The Up

This year saw the biggest increase in the number of breeding stone-curlews in the Breckland area of Norfolk and Suffolk since the protection project began in 1986.

The RSPB/English Nature stone-curlew project recorded an increase of 22 pairs, from 113 pairs in 2003 to 135 pairs in 2004. Productivity ? the number of chicks fledged per pair - was rather average, with 84 fledged young in total, or 0.62 fledged per pair. Wet summer weather probably reduced survival of young birds to just below the 0.7 young per pair needed to maintain the population.

Elsewhere in East Anglia, away from the stronghold of Breckland, there was a slight decrease in mid-Norfolk and an increase on the Suffolk coast. In mid-Norfolk, eight pairs fledged four young compared with ten and six in 2003. In East Suffolk, six confirmed nesting pairs fledged four young, compared with five and four last year. There has been no confirmed breeding south Cambridgeshire since 1999. On the Elveden Estate in Suffolk, the most important part of the Brecks not covered by the RSPB/English Nature stone-curlew project, 48 pairs fledged 33 chicks. (Information courtesy of Elveden Estate Office). Adding the 135 pairs recorded by RSPB/English Nature stone-curlew project to the Elveden Estate`s 48 pairs gives a minimum of 183 pairs of stone-curlews in the Suffolk and Norfolk Brecks in 2004. This is about two-thirds of the UK population of around 290 pairs. As well as in East Anglia, stone-curlews are found in Wessex (Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire) where another RSPB protection project has helped a recovery of numbers to 93 pairs in 2004.A stone-curlew that almost certainly over-wintered was an unusual record. The bird was colour-ringed as a chick in 2003, was seen in the Brecks as late as mid-January and then stayed around to nest in the Brecks this spring. The classic book about Breckland, W G Clarke`s `In Breckland Wilds` (published in 1925), mentions occasional stone-curlew overwintering.

The RSPB says that the work of farmers and landowners in Breckland is vital for stone-curlews. The key factor in the recovery of the stone-curlew is nest protection, especially for those nesting in crops such as sugar beet and potatoes. Working closely with farmers, nests are found and safeguarded from damage by tractor hoeing and other agricultural operations. The stone-curlew declined rapidly from an estimated 1,000-2,000 pairs in the 1930s to only 150-160 by 1985. Conservation work then halted their decline, and since 1994 numbers have steadily grown, topping 200 pairs in 1998 for the first time since the 1970s.

The Government`s Biodiversity Action Plan set a target of 200 pairs of stone-curlews by the year 2000, reached ahead of schedule in 1998. The plan also set a target of 300 pairs by 2010. The plan encourages re-colonisation of its past UK breeding range which includes parts of west and north Norfolk, the Suffolk coast and south Cambridgeshire.

For further information contact: Tim Cowan, RSPB stone-curlew project officer 01842 821787 Chris Durdin or Rob Lucking, RSPB Eastern England office 01603 660066 Nick Sibbett, English Nature, Bury St Edmunds 01284 762218

4th July 2014