Rare birds in the New Forest facing extinction

Eurasian curlew

Published Tuesday 4 April 2017

Alarming new figures suggest that the curlew is at risk of extinction in southern England, including in its New Forest stronghold.

The iconic sight and sound of curlews in the Forest could soon be a thing of the past according to survey work by conservation group Wild New Forest1.

Wild New Forest is led by local wildlife experts, who co-ordinate volunteer-based surveys and provide data to the Forestry Commission, Natural England and New Forest National Park Authority.

The group located just 40 breeding pairs of curlews across the National Park last year. This represents a shocking population decline of almost two thirds in the last 10 years.

Across the UK, curlews have declined by 24 per cent in 25 years2, with less than 200 pairs left in southern England, making the New Forest situation particularly worrying.

Despite the stark figures, conservationists say that people out and about in the New Forest can take simple steps to help save these rare birds.

Prof Russell Wynn of Wild New Forest, who is also a New Forest National Park Authority Member, said: ‘Anyone can play a vital part in protecting curlews by minimising disturbance on their breeding grounds in spring and summer.

‘Curlews and other New Forest breeding waders typically nest in open areas of heath and bog, so it is here that special care is needed.’

Curlews are well camouflaged and secretive, so it is extremely difficult to find their nests. Despite this, the team of experienced volunteer observers located 19 nests during 2016. Although chicks appeared to have hatched at nine nests, others were clearly abandoned or the eggs taken by predators.

These nest failures may be a driver of the overall population decline. The team also recorded a range of potential predators and observed disturbance by runners and by dogs venturing off the path in the vicinity of curlew nests.

Nigel Matthews, Head of Recreation Management and Learning at the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘The New Forest curlew population is extremely important – in some ways it’s a barometer for the well-being of wildlife in the New Forest.

‘Disturbance is likely to be a cause of the decline, it’s vital that we do all we can to reduce instances of birds being startled by people. Working with other Forest organisations, we have helped design new signs for use across the Open Forest this year. These signs make it clear that walkers and their dogs, cyclists and horse riders should all stay on the main tracks when crossing heathland from now until August.’

The Wild New Forest survey team is now preparing for more fieldwork as the first migrating curlews arrive back in the New Forest. You can help by reporting any sightings of curlews and other ground nesting waders to wildnewforest@gmail.com

The 2016 curlew survey report is available on the Wild New Forest website at: www.wildnewforest.co.uk/new-forest-curlews-crisis/

- ends –

Curlew facts

  • Curlews are so named because of their far carrying call of ‘cur-lee, cur-lee’.
  • Curlews head for coasts after they have finished breeding as they like large areas of mudflats and saltmarsh
  • They start nesting in April or May and incubation takes about one month. It then takes a further five weeks for the young to be able to fly.


  1. www.wildnewforest.co.uk/new-forest-curlews-crisis/
  2. www.bto.org/about-birds/birdtrends/2016/discussion/latest-long-term-alerts

Further information

Photos: A curlew in the New Forest, credit: Mike Read / A curlew flying in the New Forest, credit: Marcus Ward.

Video: A clip of curlew in the New Forest is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4WGlE4nqM0 to embed in your website.

Audio: A clip of a curlew calling can be downloaded at www.xeno-canto.org/37497

Interviews: Contact us to arrange on-location interviews and filming on accompanied survey days in the New Forest with the Wild New Forest experts.

Notes to Editors

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect.
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk to find out more.

Media contact

Matt Stroud, Communications Officer
Tel: 01590 646650
Email: matt.stroud@newforestnpa.gov.uk

More articles in the news archive.

New Forest National Park Authority news feed


image-fade-right image-fade-left