Rare birds breed for first time at Dunwich Heath

Stone Curlew Adult
Published : 31 Jul 2017 Last update : 05 Dec 2019

Years of dedicated habitat management have paid off after one of Britain’s endangered bird species successfully bred for the first time at the National Trust’s Dunwich Heath.

A pair of stone curlews, which were once a common sight in the UK have successfully nested, laid eggs and protected one of their young after Dunwich Heath’s lead ranger, Richard Gilbert, worked to create and prepare the ideal conditions for them.

Stone curlews have seen a huge decline in their numbers since the 1950s, with the Suffolk coast becoming one of their few remaining breeding spots in the UK.

Creating places for rare birds

Richard Gilbert, Lead Ranger, explains:

“I’ve been using a small section of land at Dunwich Heath to create small rotavated plots during the winter months, with the aim of encouraging stone curlews to nest on them and this year a pair of them appeared.

"They are very easily disturbed and quite nervous birds and their first clutch of two eggs was abandoned at quite an early stage. Thankfully, they laid a second clutch and seemed much more determined the second time around.”

Temporary barriers were also put in place to deter predators and then it was over to the birds to see if they would succeed. One of the chicks disappeared, but much to the relief of Richard and the Dunwich team, after six weeks the remaining chick fledged.

“It somehow managed to avoid foxes, stoats and crows. We have such a small area of land suitable for this kind of work here, so it’s fantastic that the chick survived and fledged. I’m already thinking about how we can expand what we do next year to help encourage more stone curlews here.”

Richard worked closely with a specially licensed warden to track and eventually ring the chick, which means they’ll be able to monitor where it travels to in the future.

“Many of our neighbours in conservation charities are doing great work to help stone curlews too, so I think what we’re seeing is all the work we’re all doing coming together and paying off.

“Stone curlews are becoming a conservation success story and we’re seeing that when heathland is being managed better it really pays off for them. Working with others is a big part of that success story.”

National Trust pledges to increase wildlife habitat

Earlier in 2017, the National Trust set out ambitious plans to help reverse the decline in wildlife on all the land in our care. In addition to creating 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025, the Trust has also pledged to create and restore priority wildlife habitats on 10 per cent of the land in our care.

Once common in the UK, the number of stone curlews on our shores have fallen significantly following the loss of habitats and these ground-nesting birds feature on the BTO’s ‘amber’ list of Birds of Conservation Concern. The birds nest on very short grazed or bare ground, such as acid grassland, which makes up about 30% of Dunwich Heath.

Today, the Suffolk coast and the Brecklands of Norfolk and Suffolk together with Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire are home to the stone curlew’s most successful breeding grounds.