Curlew in Wales: What Does the Future Hold?

Hands up if you have heard a curlew recently? That was the question recently posed to a village hall full of local residents and farmers at a meeting held in the spring of 2024. Fortunately, a good number of hands shot up. This area of NE Wales still holds relatively good numbers of breeding curlew. By the end of the evening over fifty people had come forward as curlew volunteers for the coming season. The meeting had been arranged by the local team in the Curlew Connections Project, a three-year project led by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund Nature Networks Funds.

Curlew are one of the most iconic birds of the Welsh countryside. For many people their arrival back to their breeding grounds heralds the beginning of spring. Their distinctive bubbling call is an evocative but sadly less frequent sound in the Welsh rural landscape.

Populations of breeding waders, particular curlew, are in steep decline in Wales, the UK and indeed in much of Europe. Curlew are considered to be the most-pressing bird conservation priority in both Wales and the rest of the UK.

In 2020 the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) were asked to model the likely population of breeding curlew in Wales; they suggested a population of 400 to 1700 breeding pairs, with populations declining at 6% per annum leading to the very real possibility of the loss of curlew as a breeding species in Wales by 2033.

We know the key driver of population decline in this relatively long-lived bird is poor breeding success. The maintenance of a stable breeding population requires each breeding pair to produce 0.6 chicks per year. It is thought that current productivity in Wales is 0.3, only half of what is required, with some areas fledging no chicks at all in some years. Low productivity is driven by a combination of three key pressures: habitat loss through continued land drainage and agricultural intensification, unfavourable habitat management through a lack of management of some semi-natural habitats, and the switch from hay to silage with much earlier cutting dates does not allow time for young chicks to fledge. Nest and chick predation, mainly by foxes and carrion crows is also a key driver of change.

Who is working for curlew in Wales?

The Conservation Partnership Gylfinir Cymru | Curlew Wales is a group of 20 organisations established in 2019 following the Wales Curlew Conference held in Builth Wells in 2018, attended by over 120 individuals wanting to help curlew. It can be seen as the sister organisation to the Curlew Recovery Partnership in England, and both organisations work closely together.

Gylfinir Cymru published the Action Plan for the Recovery of Curlew in Wales in November 2021 Recovery Plan | Curlew Wales. As a part of the Plan, members of Gylfinir Cymru have identified 12 Important Curlew Areas (ICAs) in Wales. Each ICA has a lead organisation which is working to secure funding for delivering benefits to curlew in these areas. The ICA network is thought to hold 60% of the Welsh curlew population (based on data collated in 2020).

Details of the lead organisation and what funding is being used in each ICA can be found at Important Curlew Areas (ICAs). Lead Partners and current funding (

How can you help?

Curlews return to their breeding areas from the beginning of March onwards, with territories established during April before they settle to lay and incubate their eggs. From mid-May onwards we are likely to see them chick-guarding and alarm-calling to protect their young. Birds whose nests fail, or who lose young chicks, will begin to aggregate in coastal locations. Birds still on their breeding grounds and alarm-calling up to the end of June or even into July suggests they have young very close to fledging.

We are asking anyone with records of breeding curlew between March and July to submit their records to Cofnod where there is a dedicated recording page for curlew for Wales, or to enter the records to their Local Record Centre. This information is vital to help those working on curlew in Wales to focus recovery interventions in the right place.

Negative results are also of great value. Knowing an area has been visited during the breeding season and no curlew were present is also an important record for us. Negative records can be entered on the Cofnod page dedicated to curlew.

Another extremely useful piece of information that we need is records of colour rings or flags on any curlew’s legs. There are many projects throughout the UK that are colour-ringing their birds to build up a picture of their movements and use of the landscape. There is a link to record this information on the Curlew page on Cofnod – North Wales Environmental Information Service | Home

For birds seen in England, or the rest of the UK, please pass information on colour-ringed or flagged birds on to

By sharing any information you have about breeding curlew in Wales and England you can help us all try and make sure that next time someone asks “Hands up if you have heard a curlew recently” we, and many generations to come, can put our hands straight up.

Bethan Beech

My name is Bethan Beech. I have been fortunate to undertake a number of different roles within NRW during my career. My work has mostly been on Protected Sites but also working on peatland and river restoration projects in North Wales.

My current post with NRW is funded by the Welsh Government through the Nature Networks Programme to lead on curlew in Wales and also work to with NRW colleagues on the invertebrate features of SSSI.

In my work with curlew I work closely with Gylfinir Cymru and anyone else working on curlew anywhere in Wales to deliver the actions in the Action Plan for the Recovery of Curlew of Recovery Plan | Curlew Wales.