A blog post by Phil Sheldrake on 20 April... and looking forward to tomorrow the 21st April, World Curlew Day
I always find the peregrine’s flight is so purposeful. Strong wing beats setting direction, then a glide, wings held horizontal and straight like a knife cutting through the sky. It demands my attention but it doesn’t need to – I’ll watch anyway, waiting for the thrill of the stoop if it comes, the wings folded back and…down it drops, aerodynamic perfection. Contrast the red kite, seemingly in defiance of gravity, hanging in the air, small adjustments of the tail to steer its course lazily over to check us out as we sat by the river yesterday, a welcome simplicity against the mass of confusion as swallows invaded our space from every direction. Glorious!
Peregrine numbers in the UK recovered from the low of about 300 pairs in the 1980’s to the 1750 pairs reported following the 2014 national survey, that’s about 2.5% of the world’s population. Although low level persecution continues in some areas, the pesticides that decimated bird of prey populations are long gone and there are perhaps more peregrines in our skies today than there has been before for those of us alive today. In terms of conservation importance peregrines are now considered ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. So, a success story.
Tomorrow, the 21st of April is World Curlew Day. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the curlew. Numbers of the Eurasian (or common) curlew in the UK have fallen by a staggering 45% in the last twenty years to an estimated population of 58,000 breeding pairs, and still declining. The curlew with its haunting ‘cur-lee’ cry and joyous bubbling song is surely the bird that represents the truly wild places of this green and pleasant land. Globally, the curlew is now considered ‘near threatened’ in conservation terms on the IUCN list, and in Europe it’s considered a step closer to extinction as ‘vulnerable’. The really sobering statistic is the fact that the UK is home to over 25% of the world’s breeding population – we have a massive responsibility for this iconic species – to do the same as we have done for peregrines.
About Phil Sheldrake
Phil Sheldrake is the Cathedral’s Nature Conservation Adviser. He describes himself as a social conservationist, focused on bringing people and the natural world closer together. Phil began life as a teacher, but 25 years ago a lifelong love of wildlife signaled a career change and he swapped the classroom for the great outdoors. Starting his RSPB career as a reserves warden in Wales, he went on to manage the Wessex Stone-curlew Recovery Project and most recently covered Wiltshire & Gloucestershire d as Conservation Officer. He is a founder member of the (Eurasian) Curlew Forum, a national network for curlew conservation groups across England. Phil first approached the Cathedral in 2011 with the idea to provide a nest box for the peregrines he had seen roosting on the Tower over winter. In 2014 his efforts were rewarded with peregrines returning to nest successfully after an absence of 61 years. Since then Phil has continued to support the Cathedral in development of the peregrine project including the provision of the webcam to give us a window into the life of this charismatic bird. Phil works closely with another peregrine expert, Granville Pictor of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society and Cathedral Clerk of Works, Gary Price. He also co-ordinates the peregrine ringing, with the help of naturalist Ed Drewitt of the British Trust for Ornithology.